Garage Door Security: Technology vs Common Sense
Almost every day there seems to be something in the news about the latest company to be hacked or articles questioning the security of IOT (Internet of Things) connected devices. But what about the radio controls fitted to automated garage doors and gates?
British homeowners considering an automated garage door purchase are likely to have done a lot of research on the subject prior to seeking quotes. One of the questions that may result from this research is about the security level claimed by garage door manufacturers.
Whilst it may be considered difficult to ask searching questions about an automated garage door’s resilience to code grabbers and digital jammers, it is certainly something that should be explored because many brands have different radio control technology.
In the sections that follow we have charted the history of remote controls revealing how secure both early and present day garage door operators are, raising the question as to whether owners of older automated garage doors need to be concerned.
How Garage Door Security Technology Has Evolved
Technical advancements include the implementation by manufacturers, such as Hormann, Garador, Marantec, Seip, Sommer and Liftmaster, of rolling code technology and adoption of 418 MHz, 433 MHz and the more up to date 868 MHz remote control frequencies.
With rolling code technology, the code on which remote controls work is modified with each individual door activation using a slightly different frequency. The code rolls onto the next random code for the next and subsequent door cycle. This technology evolved out of necessity following an increasing number of houses in the same neighbourhoods having popular brand remote control garage doors installed.
Dipswitches Used to Expand the Range of Door Frequencies
It was typical in 1960’s America for owners of remote control hand transmitters to accidently open their neighbour’s garage door due to the range of door frequencies being very limited.
Even in the late 1970’s, here in the UK, some early garage door openers were sold with dedicated code handsets for which there were as few as 10 frequency variants!
Comments such as this were commonplace back then:
“I came home and found my garage door open. Little did I know that the Jacksons next door had bought the same model of garage door operator last week.”
Modified Children’s Toy Allows 70’s and 80’s Doors to Be Easily Opened
Technology enthusiasts discovered that a simple Mattel ‘I’m-Me’ children’s toy could be modified to send out all the frequency combinations to a garage door over a very short space of time, initially taking approximately 30 minutes to scan for a result.
Potentially a burglar could sit outside a property in a car, within the normal 50 metre range of the transmitters, and wait until the unit emitted the correct frequency to open the door.
However, the likelihood of the average burglar being able to harness such technology without programming experience or a more in-depth understanding of electronics is slim.
Improved versions got the scan time down to 6 minutes. The waiting time was usually much less however, because the receivers that accept the signal from the hand transmitter and trigger the motor to open the door, used a bit shift register which meant that once it received just part of the code it would activate.
The actual security level of these openers, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, was therefore in reality, much lower than the basic maths would lead people to believe.
With the average lifespan of the early, robustly made units being up to 30 years, it is easy to calculate that tens of thousands of such units are still in use today.
Rolljam Signal Grabber Devices Circumvent Modern Garage Door Security
Signal Grabber Devices have long since been available to defeat the technology used on most modern cars, lorries, keyless entry systems and modern garage door openers.
A criminal using a signal grabber device simply sits in a car nearby and waits for the home or car owner to use their key fob. The device grabs the signal and records it. The home or car owner would notice that the signal had not been received by the car or garage door and would have to press the hand transmitter again. They would simply view the first failed press of the button as a malfunction, press again and carry on as normal. Later, the code grabber could be used to emit the captured frequency and open the car or garage.
Are Modern Garage Doors Still Susceptible to Code Jammers?
Even rolling code technology, now common in all the leading garage door operators, can be beaten. The criminal devices employed adopt a system, which in simple terms blocks and records the signal emitted by the press of the key fob button by the homeowner.
When the handset button is initially pressed, the criminal device sends out “frequency noise” on the common frequencies used by garage door remotes hence “jamming” or scrambling the ability of the intended receiver to correctly receive the signal.
A second device records this code. When the user sees that the first press has failed and presses the button again, the Rolljam device records this second code and simultaneously emits the first recorded code. The first replayed code activates the garage door and all appears normal. The captured second signal is stored by the criminal and can be used once the coast is clear to get into the garage.
The good news is that the level of encryption used by companies such as Hormann and Garador on their series 3 bi-secur rolling code garage door operators uses the same 128-bit encryption as used by the banks for the online banking. Currently, other manufacturers who use similar 128-bit encryption technology on some or all their controls are Sommer, Seip, Teckentrup and Marantec.
What Actions Should be Taken?
The reassuring common sense lesson from the rather sobering facts above about the hacking of garage door rolling code remote control systems is that statistically such entry methods are very rarely used by criminals.
Most break-ins on garage doors are targeted at old style manual or automatic up and over garage doors. Doors with a single sprung latch at the top centre of the up and over door can easily be forced inwards with moderate force or levered with a screwdriver, a more readily available criminal tool than an electric signal jammer, recorder and emitter.
Alex MacKay, Hormann UK’s technical expert said:
“Code grabbers sold online to low end criminals for getting into garages and cars will not work on Hormann motors. The level of encryption used is the same level as bank cash machines. Criminals who can hack cash machines and banks generally don’t bother even trying to get into people’s garages to steal tools or bikes.”
As a dealer, you probably have an archive of customers with older automated garage doors or shutters, so it may be worth doing some promotional work and special offers to get them to update either their old radio controls or the operator itself.
And for manual doors susceptible to forced entry, a special offer to either automate the existing door or replace it with a model fitted with higher security would undoubtedly lead to increased sales.
Whether customers need to do this or not depends on what they are prepared to lose. If they store tools or there is an access door from their garage into the house, then the cost of improving their garage door security could prove worthwhile.
A survey by the RAC in May 2014 revealed that 62% of car owners do not park their car in the garage anymore and an article by Ecclesiastical Insurance reveals that homeowners keep goods in their garage worth around £2500.
Author: Mark Arridge, Arridge Garage Doors Limited
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