Major OEMs reveal plans to make car keys obsolete

by Jimi Beckwith, Autocar UK 27 Jun 2018


Digital keys stored on smartphones could replace easier-to-hack traditional car keys, as automotive cybersecurity is ramped up amid advances in technology. 

A group of companies accounting for 70% of the world’s car industry, including Audi, BMW, Honda, Toyota, General Motors, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, PSA Group and Volkswagen, as well as 60% of the smart device market, including Alpine, Apple, LG, Panasonic and Samsung, have formed the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) and revealed how the tech would work. 

The digital keys will use the same tech as that in contactless payments via smartphones and is harder to hack than the current signal tech used in car keys. 

These keys can lock and unlock cars, as well as engage with vehicles fitted with push-button start without the need of a fob. The CCC aims to standardise the tech, allowing it to be adopted across the industry. 

Car-sharing schemes are of particular importance as the industry moves away from traditional ownership. Shared cars, car subscription services and other mobility schemes are predicted to dominate sales in the long run. Volvo, for example, aims for 50% of its sales to be subscription-based by 2025.

The CCC has five objectives for the digital keys in relation to security: 

Trustworthiness: potential thieves cannot create false signals to the car

Completeness: thieves cannot tamper with messages by removing them or parts of them

Freshness: thieves cannot replicate old messages

Binding: thieves cannot pretend to be previous users

Independence: the messages are unrelated to anything else but their intended purpose.

With similar devices being investigated by some manufacturers already, the tech is expected to land before the end of the decade.