This is the third in a series of articles on the ability to rapidly compromise the security of mechanical locks, using electro-pick guns and the Sputnik  tool developed by a burglar in Germany about thirty years ago (and that is still one of the most effective in opening pin tumbler cylinders). The tools were demonstrated at a recent meeting of locksmiths and security experts in the Czech Republic and graphically illustrate the need for multiple layers of security so that locks are not the only protection that is relied upon against entry.

Motor vehicles have always been a target for many reasons and by many diverse groups. The most obvious are thieves who want your valuables that you leave inside, as well as accessories, airbags, radios, stereos, and other items. Auto theft is also a significant problem in many parts of the world and sophisticated gangs are quite adept at stealing cars, trucks, SUVs and just about anything that moves on highways. But thieves are not the only ones that want to get into vehicles. Law enforcement, anti-terrorism units, repossessors, tow-truck companies and locksmiths also have different motives for accessing your vehicle.

Government agencies employ these and many other tools, including electronic systems, to get into vehicles to obtain evidence or to plant bugging or tracking devices. And if you fail to make payments on your car loan, banks will send Repo men to take your car away. If you lose your keys, a locksmith can usually get you in and generate duplicates, even expensive transponder keys for most cars.

In response to these and other security threats, car manufacturers have developed and implemented a variety of mechanical and electronic protective systems to frustrate access to and theft of your vehicle. These measures include keyless entry, alarms, motion sensors, and immobilizers to disable internal computers that control access to every subsystem including the engine and fuel systems. Electronic transponders that communicate with the vehicle to validate keyfobs have improved anti-theft measures while also increasing vulnerability to specific types of attacks. While the keyless entry systems are convenient they have also allowed car thieves with the right equipment to access and steal your vehicle as I demonstrated in Germany last year with devices sold to government agencies.

Traditionally and most often the first and primary security technology is the mechanical lock on the door. Even if you routinely get into your vehicle with a keyfob there is usually a mechanical key that will also unlock the door. This is one of the critical vulnerabilities. The door locks do not offer any real security against simple picking and decoding tools that are readily available for virtually every motor vehicle. What this means is that anyone can buy and learn to use some very simple devices that can compromise almost any lock that is installed on even the most expensive cars. While there are several other covert and non-destructive methods to quickly gain access to a vehicle through the door, the use of these Chinese tools is the most efficient because they not only can unlock the door but can allow the generation of a key that is based upon the information derived from the lock during the entry process.

The VA Group, which encompasses Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Skoda, SEAT as well as commercial vehicles and motorcycles recently upgraded the locks that are being installed on its newer vehicles that are now in production. This new mechanical lock, which remained essentially unchanged for about twenty years, can be bypassed in seconds with a tool developed by Zhiqin Li of Lishi Tools in China.



He is known by security experts and locksmiths throughout the world as the premier vehicle entry tool designer. He produces different versions of his picks for almost every kind of car lock. Watch as Mr. Li opens one of the new VW AG locks in about one minute, silently and without trace.

These Lishi tools are not the only ones available to open door locks but they are probably the best for opening almost every lock that is installed by major car manufacturers. They cost about one hundred dollars for each tool.

Unfortunately, the compromise of door locks and just about every other system can also be accomplished by tapping into the Controlled Area Network (CAN bus) at any point within or outside of the vehicle and issuing an unlock command. Easily obtained Bypass microprocessors and programs can then take over these obsolete and totally insecure systems of most vehicles.  The CAN bus connects all the Electronic Control Units (ECUs) that manage every operation. Virtually all vehicles run on CAN bus, which was designed in 1983 and is essentially an open system for anyone that buys one of the tools. Wireless systems in cars add another level of insecurity, but the door locks are still the easiest to compromise.

To protect your vehicle and its contents, you may want to consider installing secondary locking systems and alarms, and protecting access to car keys so they cannot be easily copied. Remember that parking attendants and valets can decode or clone car keys and transponders that you leave with them. Coupled with your license number and registration information this is often all they require to know where you live. Leaving your home or office keys with your car keys can make it easier for thieves and burglars to do their job and make you a victim.

I wear two hats in my world: I am both an investigative attorney and physical security/communications expert. For the past forty years, I have worked investigations, b...

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