Wireless Attacks on Automotive Remote Keyless Entry Systems

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Colleges, School and Institutes


Modern vehicles rely on a variety of electronic systems and components. One of those components is the vehicle key. Today, a key typically implements at least three functions: mechanical locking with a key blade, the electronic immobilizer to autorise the start of the engine, and the remote keyless entry (RKE) system that allows to wirelessly (un)lock the doors and disable the alarm system. These main components of a vehicle key are shown in Figure 1. For the mechanical part of the vehicle key, it is well known that the key blade can be easily copied and that the locking cylinder can be bypassed with other means (using so-called "decoders" or simply a screwdriver). In contrast, immobilizer and RKE rely on wireless protocols to cryptographically authenticate the vehicle key to the car. Immobilizers employ radio frequency identification (RFID) transponders to carry out a challenge-response protocol over a low-range bidirectional link at a frequency of 125 kHz. In the past, researchers have revealed severe aws in the cryptography and protocols used by immobilizers, leading to the break of the major systems Megamos, Hitag2, and DST40 [7, 6, 1]. In contrast to the immobilizer, the RKE part uses unidirectional communication (the vehicle only receives, the key fob only transmits) over a high-range wireless link with operating distances of tens to one hundred meters. These systems are based on rolling codes, which essentially transmit a counter (that is incremented on each button press) in a cryptographically authenticated manner. Until recently, the security of automotive RKE had been scrutinized to a lesser degree than that of immobilizers, even though vulnerabilities in similar systems have been known since 2008 with the attacks on KeeLoq [3]. Other results reported in the literature include an analytical attack on a single, outdated vehicle [2] and the so-called "RollJam" technique [5], which is based on a combination of replay and selective jamming. In 2016, it was shown that severe aws exist in the RKE systems of major automotive manufacturers [4]. On the one hand, the VWgroup (Volkswagen, Seat, Skoda, Audi) based the security of their RKE system on a few global cryptographic keys, potentially affecting hundreds of million vehicles world-wide. By extracting these global keys from the firmware of electronic controls units (ECUs) once, an adversary is able to create a duplicate of the owner's RKE fob by eavesdropping a single rolling code. The second case study in [4] exposes new cryptographic weaknesses in the Hitag2 cipher when used for RKE. Applying a correlation-based attack, an adversary can recover the 48-bit cryptographic key by eavesdropping four to eight rolling codes and performing a one-minute computation on a standard laptop. Again, this attack affects millions of vehicle world-wide. Manufacturers that used Hitag2 in their RKE system include Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Lancia, Opel, Renault, and Ford among others. In this keynote talk, we will present the results of [4] and put them in into a broader context by revisiting the history of attacks on RKE systems and automotive electronics.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrustED’16 - Proceedings of the 6th International Workshop on Trustworthy Embedded Devices
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2016
Event6th International Workshop on Trustworthy Embedded Devices (TrustED 2016) - Vienna, Austria
Duration: 28 Oct 201628 Oct 2016


Conference6th International Workshop on Trustworthy Embedded Devices (TrustED 2016)