Canada declares Flipper Zero public enemy No. 1 in car-theft crackdown

Enlarge / A Flipper Zero device

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has identified an unlikely public enemy No. 1 in his new fight against car theft: Flipper Zero, a $200 open-source piece of hardware used to capture, analyze and interact with simple radio communications.

Thursday, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada agency said it will “pursue all means to ban devices used to steal vehicles by copying wireless signals for remote keyless entry, such as the Flipper Zero, which would allow the removal of these devices from the Canadian market through collaboration with law enforcement agencies. In a message published on social networks, François-Philippe Champagne, the minister of this agency, declared that as part of this campaign, “we prohibit the importation, sale and use of computer hacking devices, such as palms, used to commit these crimes.”

In remarks the same day, Trudeau said the initiative would target similar tools that he said can be used to defeat the anti-theft protections built into virtually all new cars.

“In reality, it has become too easy for criminals to obtain sophisticated electronic devices that make their work easier,” he said. said. “For example, to copy car keys. It is unacceptable that it is possible to purchase tools intended to facilitate car theft on major online shopping platforms.”

Presumably, these tools subject to the ban would include HackRF One And LimeSDR, which have become crucial for scanning and testing the security of all kinds of electronic devices to find vulnerabilities before they are exploited. None of the government officials identified any of these tools, but in an email, a Canadian government official reiterated the use of the phrase “pursue all avenues to ban devices used to steal vehicles by copying signals wireless for remote keyless entry”.

A humble amateur device

The desire to ban one of these tools has sparked strong criticism from security enthusiasts and professionals. Their argument was only strengthened by Trudeau's emphasis on Flipper Zero. This thin and light device featuring an adorable dolphin logo acts as a Swiss army knife for sending, receiving and analyzing all kinds of wireless communications. It can interact with radio signals including RFID, NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or standard radio. People can use them to secretly change the channels on a TV in a bar, clone simple hotel key cards, read the RFID chip implanted in pets, open and close certain garage doors and, up for Apple to release a patchsend iPhones into an endless DoS loop.

The price and ease of use make Flipper Zero ideal for beginners and hobbyists who want to understand how increasingly ubiquitous communications protocols like NFC and Wi-Fi work. It brings together various open source hardware and software source in a portable format sold at an affordable price. Lost to the Canadian government, the device is not particularly useful for stealing cars because it lacks the more advanced capabilities required to bypass anti-theft protections introduced more than two decades ago.

One thing the Flipper Zero is extremely ill-equipped to do is defeat modern anti-hacking protections built into cars, smart cards, phones, and other electronic devices.

The most common form of electronically assisted car theft today, for example, uses so-called signal amplification relay devices against keyless ignition and entry systems. This form of hack works by placing one device near a key fob and a second device near the vehicle the key fob works with. In the most typical scenario, the key fob is located on a shelf near a locked front door and the car is several dozen feet away in a driveway. By placing one device near the front door and another next to the car, the hack emits the radio signals needed to unlock and start the device.

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