How secure are the remote controls we use?

Access & Identity Management Handbook 2004 Access Control & Identity Management

Remote controls are being used more and more to operate various devices around the home, office or factory, from entrance gates, to garage or industrial door motors, access control booms to alarms systems. Considering that in most cases these applications are required primarily for security purposes, just how secure are the remote control systems being specified with these systems?

The majority of remote controls being sold for gate and garage door automation still use a fixed coded protocol. This means every time the unit is used it transmits the same digital signal. With electronic devices such as `code grabbers' readily available, it is quite feasible for a would be intruder to copy this signal when an unsuspecting user operates their entrance gate or garage door, allowing access at a later stage.

In townhouse complexes it is far too easy for tenants, without the knowledge of the caretaker, to purchase duplicate copies of even the most advanced fixed coded remotes using the latest chameleon type products available on the market. These extra remotes can be handed unwittingly to people that should not necessarily have access to the complex.

Whilst South Africans are becoming more reliant on their electronic security systems, it is clear that fixed coded remote controls do not provide a secure way to activate an entrance gate, garage door or switch an alarm.

It would be true to say that companies that profess to provide security solutions when specifying these types of remote controls are potentially putting their clients at risk. What is the use of a high wall with electric fence and automatic gate if an intruder can very easily obtain your remote control signal and gain access? What is the purpose of having a state of the art remote control activated alarm fitted if this can also be easily immobilised.

Code hopping technology

Remote controls which incorporate 'keeloq' rolling code or code hopping technology, whereby every time the remote is operated, it automatically transmits a new totally randomly generated code, permit a greater sense of security, as such remotes cannot be duplicated or cloned, the transmitted signal cannot copied and new transmitters can only be added to the system with access to the receiver. By fitting such devices to operate any access automation or security system provides an impenetrable switching device.

The fact that every leading brand of motor vehicle that uses a remote control to activate an alarm or operate the vehicle door locks has incorporated rolling code technology into their system, testifies to the fact that the end-users of access control and security solutions should be specifying similar devices with their next gate motor, garage door operator or alarm system.

Source: Centurion Systems

Self-learning receivers

It is pertinent to highlight the emergence into the market of self-learning remote control receivers that can not only interface with a variety of fixed code transmitters but also claim to operate with rolling code transmitters.

Simply put, a typical rolling code remote transmits a code with two distinct parts, a fixed signature unique to the remote and an encrypted signature that is constantly changing. 'Self learning' receivers interpret and learn the fixed coded part of the rolling code remote and ignore the encrypted part. This enables these receivers to operate with a rolling code transmitter but as the critical encrypted rolling part of the code is ignored, these remote control systems offer no better level of security than a fixed coded remote referred to above.





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