Fear is spreading about a "hacking" device called the Flipper Zero

Social media has been drawing attention to a small, strange device known as the "Flipper Zero" - claiming it can be used to rob ATMs, clone credit cards, change gas prices and traffic lights, and steal cars.

Now there's growing concern that car thieves have access to a new tool that allows them to hack into cars.

Canada is looking to ban the Flipper Zero

Because of its believed connection with car theft, Canadian government officials are proposing to ban the Flipper Zero as one of many potential car-hacking devices.

But in a statement to Global News, Alex Kulagin, COO of Flipper Devices, said “Flipper Zero can’t be used to hijack any car, specifically the ones produced after the 1990s, since their security systems have rolling codes.”

So which is it? Is the Flipper Zero a dangerous device in the hands of car thieves, or is this a manufactured panic being spread through social media?

What is the Flipper Zero?

The Flipper Zero isn't new. The open-source device was initially announced in 2020 and has been available now for a few years. The website for the gadget calls it a "Multi-tool Device for Geeks." More specifically:

Flipper Zero is a tiny piece of hardware with a curious personality of a cyber-dolphin. It can interact with digital systems in real life and grow while you use it. Explore any kind of access control system, RFID, radio protocols, and debug hardware using GPIO pins.

That might be jibberish to a lot of us, but the simple answer is that the Flipper Zero is an electronic device that can interact with digital, radio, and infrared devices in several ways.

The Flipper Zero
Flipper Zero

There are many interesting uses for the Flipper Zero, including making a universal remote control, testing wi-fi signals, scanning pet microchips, and triggering doorbells. Uses range from mundane tasks to pranking and yes, there are some limited ways in which the Flipper Zero can "hack" - such as cloning RFID cards.

But it can't steal cars

As the company representative above was quoted, the Flipper Zero cannot hack cars due to one simple reason: modern cars use 'rolling codes.' This is a security system in which the code used to open doors or start the car changes each time a key fob is used. In short, if someone copies your key signal with a Flipper Zero, they won't be able to use it - because the signal will be expired.

The way these codes are generated is also complex - making it an impossible task to generate a new code that will allow a hacker to enter the car, much less start it afterward. It'd be much easier to do a standard break-in.

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During an interview, hacking professional RenderMan said that the only way you could use the Flipper Zero to steal a car was "if you beat the driver with it." Given its small and innocuous design, I'm going to say you probably aren't at any risk.

As for robbing ATMs, cloning credit cards, altering gas prices, and changing traffic lights - Flipper Zero can't do any of that either.

So what is the real problem?

While car theft is on the rise, we should probably be looking to car manufacturers to make sure their systems are as secure as reasonably possible. Canadian lawyer Ian Runkle and RenderMan discuss these issues in depth in the YouTube interview below.

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