A BLE Based Secure Passive Keyless Entry Solution for Cars

At Electronica 2018, imec demonstrated the first solution for secure and very accurate passive keyless entry using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This technology enables seamless car access where a BLE device, such as a mobile phone, acts as a digital car key. Imec’s demonstration builds on the research center’s Secure High Accuracy Distance Measurement (HADM) algorithms implemented on BLE. Their HADM on BLE achieves an accuracy of 30 centimeters – which is over 10 times better than current approaches, even those already using phase-based ranging techniques – and will be enriched with physical layer security features that create a secure distance measurement between two Bluetooth-enabled communication devices.

With this innovation, imec shows that BLE is ready to support a wide new range of disruptive services for proximity applications in a secure and cost-effective way. These range from passive keyless access to cars and smart door-locks to accurate indoor navigation and tire pressure measurement applications. A growing number of cars offer passive keyless entry solutions that automatically unlock a car’s doors as its owner approaches. Yet, ways of electronically stealing a car have become increasingly sophisticated as well – with relay attacking being a well-known risk.

Imec leverages its vast BLE hardware and software design expertise to develop a HADM (High Accuracy Distance Measurement) technology for a robust and highly secure keyless entry solution for the automotive industry using the Bluetooth Low Energy technology. Measuring the actual distance between the smart lock and the car owner’s mobile authentication device, it provides an accuracy over 10 times better than today’s approaches – even in harsh (indoor) environments with a lot of reflections such as indoor parking garages. And above that, additional physical layer and algorithm security features from COSIC, an imec research group at the University of Leuven are being integrated to prevent advanced relay-attacks and location spoofing. Whereas phased-based ranging intercepts standard relay-attacks, it still is vulnerable to sophisticated ways of distance manipulation.  The imec solution will block manipulating the measured distances that could pretend a key to be closer than it really is.

The imec research program on Secure HADM is open for industrial partners, covering the entire value chain.