Pirate radio station jams keyless entry system

A mysterious string of keyless entry malfs in Hollywood, FL were resolved when police was discovered a 24-hour pirate Caribbean music station that was inadvertently jamming the car-fobs.

For months, dozens of people could not use their keyless entry systems to unlock or start their cars whenever they parked near the Hollywood Police Department. Once the cars were towed to the dealers, the problem miraculously disappeared.

..."How do you like them potatoes?" said Mannolie Disantos, a manager at a nearby Radio Shack where several stranded car owners flocked when their electronic keys failed, only to learn their key batteries weren't dead after all. "We were blaming it on the police. The police were blaming it on the courthouse. We didn't know what was going on."

Like I say every time my kid busts the string used to run her mittens through her jacket sleeves, intermitten problems are the hardest to diagnose.

Pirate radio jammed keyless car entry systems [Susannah Bryan/Sun Sentinel] (via /.)


  1. I use a wireless timecode box in my job – it runs at 433mhz UHF which is the same frequency as many car and garage key-fobs use. For work i need to have uninterrupted signal so my system outputs a fairly strong signal coupled with big antennas. On a slow day i enjoy sitting in my house, turning the system on and then watching my neighbours fruitlessly try and get into the cars and out of their garages. 

  2. My favorite line from the original article:

    “Most drivers were forced to read their owner’s manual to learn how to access their manual key, Camara said.”

  3. One more reason to have PHYSICAL keys for your cars. You’re already carrying around the stupid remote control “fob”, why not just build the same remote functionality into a standard car key as an option?

    Oh wait, that’s actually what car makers used to do! But it’s just so much more fashionable these days to use a less reliable system, I guess. And if people are willing to pay more for less… well…

    1. its a security feature. locks can be broken, but hacking the signal to the security brain is outside the purview of the common car thief.

    2. I rather like the Ford keyless entry system, it is a touchpad on the drivers door, truly keyless, you enter the pin, and unlock the drivers door, all doors, or the trunk, depending on the code. Very handy.

    3. There is a car that has the keyless entry built into the handle of the key itself. I can’t remember what it was, though.

        1. I vaguely recall someone with one of those complaining that they were constantly locking and unlocking their car by accident.

  4. I’m not surprised that the jamming occurred(those little keyfob radios have to run off a coin cell or two for reasonable time, and don’t get much antenna space, so they can only be expected to be pretty wimpy compared to anything with access to mains power and a proper antenna).

    I am rather surprised(especially since they are part of the car’s security system) that the vehicle’s receiver unit doesn’t have the ability to throw some sort of diagnostic flag in the event that the noise floor rises so high as to drown out any legitimate transmitter(Probably not data it would helpfully display to the user; but the sort of thing that would get spit out to the dealer’s proprietary diagnostic code setup). 

    I’ve done my share, unfortunately, of poking at 802.11a/b/g/n related signal problems, and being able to flag problematic levels of noise is a pretty basic diagnostic capability, something even stock, consumer, hardware can generally report somewhere in the guts of its interface, and proper sniffing gear can even draw pretty pictures of for you. Doesn’t solve the problem; but does make it less mysterious…

      1. I’m not sure. I know that the ‘Onstar’ stuff does some serious reporting-telematics-back-to-HQ things, so apparently they do care about some aspects of field experience.

  5. Why would you trust entry to your car to something with batteries anyway? That’s kind of dumb. Seems to me the best security would be biometric. A remote fob can be stolen just like a key can.

    Anyway, I have zero sympathy for the poor poor Lexus owners who had to *gasp* read their manuals and figure out how to use a key to enter their cars. I’m firmly on the side of the guy with the pirate radio station. They’re gonna try to track him down and hit him with ruinous fines, all for the heinous crime of inconveniencing a few car owners.

    1. No, they’re going to hit him with ruinous fines because he broke FCC regulations. All the wireless gizmos we love today work because of those regulations, so it’s in all our best interests for the FCC to come down harshly on it. 

      Anarchy on the airwaves would assure that it become completely useless.

        1. Internet regulation would be more akin to broadcast standards.
          Ignoring the FCC regulations in this manner would be more like a DoS or perhaps misconfiguring a local network and breaking your network access.

      1. It’s really a mix of both problems.  The operator of the station shouldn’t have been on the frequency or frequencies.  However, at the same time, the owners of the cars should have pulled their heads out long enough and far enough to read the manual and get to know about the keyless entry system and its troubleshooting – or at bare minimum they all should have read the section about the operation of the keyless entry system and someone in the dealer’s service department should have gotten very familiar with the section of the service manual on in depth trouble shooting of it.  Had they done so, someone would have figured out much sooner that there was signal crossover from *something* that *someone* was operating and it would have gone directly to getting the appropriate agency or agencies involved in figuring out who was operating what, where in violation of FCC regulations to cause the problems.  

        Furthermore, while it *is* a security thing, because this *is* a known problem, there should be a work around – specifically for safety’s sake BESIDES having to wait around for a tow truck and having your car towed to a dealer.  And this should be done as a fail-safe specifically for the sake of security – because there are multiple reasons why a wireless device can fail.

        1. I can’t like this enough.  A security system which has strand you in a random location as a failure mode has spectacularly missed the point, however well it works when functioning as intended.

          There needs to be an option B. (And it needs to be harder for a thief than option A, of course.)

    2. Cars I’ve owned recently cut power to the starters if the signal from the fob doesn’t go through. There’s no way around it as it’s a security feature, not  a bug. I can use a key to enter the car, but it won’t turn over without that signal. This used to happen to me in Midtown Manhattan. A certain place I would park had interference. I had to open the trunk and put the fob right up to the security system ‘brain’ box and then it would go through. First time it happened took about an hour figuring that out…

    3. “Seems to me the best security would be biometric.”

      I’ve got a pair of hedge trimmers(or a grapefruit spoon, if iris scans are more your style) that says that you’d much rather just have your key or key fob stolen…

      1. Vein readers work just as well as fingerprint readers in relation to uniqueness, and can be made to require that the finger/hand to be intact with blood movement.

        That might solve a few problems. If you cut off the finger it won’t work, although if your vein map is skimmed it’s feasible to make a model digit/hand with simulated/substituted blood. Or they might hook up the severed hand to a fliud pump I suppose.

        1. I think the point wasn’t that a biometric system is particularly vulnerable, but that tempting people to slice off your fingers isn’t a good idea.

          For example.

    4. This issue with biometric entry is that if your key is somehow compromised, it’s not very easy to get a new one. It could also make loaning your car to a friend very… painful.

  6. A FM pirate radio station broadcasting Caribbean music glitching high society devices, in 2012….
    So, is this a viral for a Neuromancer film?

  7. Maybe some technically inclined reader can comment. The pirate station was on 107.4 mHz. What’s the path that leads to interference with the keyless systems? Do they operate in the sort-of-unregulated 433 mHz area, and some harmonic (107.4 x 4) is clobbering them?

    I did my Google diligence of 30 seconds and found lots of other 107.4 stations, but none in the US. Is that an unused frequency for this very reason?

    1. You don’t see stations on 107.4 in the US because stations are limited to odd decimals. There are plenty of 107.3’s and 107.5’s. Some radios with digital displays won’t even tune to an even decimal, you’d have to listen on .3 or .5.

      That said I’d like someone to answer your main question.

    2. Usually pirate radio stations will have filters that remove harmonic frequencies such as this. Alas, these guys didn’t, which makes them pretty irresponsible as pirate radio broadcasters go. More info here (search for “filter” on that page).

  8. Wild! I live 2 blocks from there. Every time I go near there my remote only works within 10 feet of my car, otherwise it works fine. Now I know why!

  9. “. . .intermitten problems are the hardest to diagnose.”

    “Any man who would make such an execrable pun would not scruple to pick my pocket” Sir W. H. Pyne (1657-1734)

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