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Author Topic: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City  (Read 751 times)

Online Fansome

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A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City, and Now Residents Know Why

By Heather Murphy

    May 4, 2019

It sounded like something from an episode of “The X-Files”: Starting a few weeks ago, in a suburban neighborhood a few miles from a NASA research center in Ohio, garage door openers and car key fobs mysteriously stopped working.

Garage door repair people, local ham radio enthusiasts and other volunteer investigators descended on the neighborhood with various meters. Everyone agreed that something powerful was interfering with the radio frequency that many fobs rely on, but no one could identify the source.

Officials of North Olmsted, a city just outside Cleveland, began receiving calls about the problems in late April, Donald Glauner, the safety and service director for North Olmsted, said on Saturday.

In the weeks that followed, more than a dozen residents reported intermittent issues getting their car fobs and garage door openers to work. Most lived within a few blocks of one another in North Olmsted though some were from the nearby city of Fairview Park.

Not every car fob failed to work, said Chris Branchick, whose parents live in North Olmsted. He said that whenever he visited his parents in his GMC vehicle, the fob would not unlock the car door; if he went in his fiancée’s Nissan, things were fine.

“We thought maybe it was a foreign versus domestic thing,” he said.

Officials from the cable company and AT&T joined the search for answers, and on Thursday, the Illuminating Company, a local electric utility, dispatched inspectors to investigate.

“They began by shutting off the power in the places where they detected the strongest reading for interfering radio frequencies,” said Chris Eck, a company spokesman. But even after shutting off power on an entire block, the overpowering frequency persisted.
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Wanda Walker, right, holding the door as Anna Walker carries her daughter out of their car. For weeks the Walkers said the key fobs for their car would not work at home but would work outside of their neighborhood.CreditDustin Franz for The New York Times

“It’s like trying to talk to someone at a nightclub,” said Adam Scott Wandt, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, in explaining how a strong frequency can derail a weak frequency.

Dan Dalessandro, a television repairman, was one of several ham radio aficionados who went to investigate. At first, he said, all he picked up were “little blips” on a signal detector, but on one block — and at one house in particular — the signal was extraordinarily powerful.

By Saturday afternoon, City Councilman Chris Glassburn announced that the mystery had been solved: The source of the problem was a homemade battery-operated device designed by a local resident to alert him if someone was upstairs when he was working in his basement. It did so by turning off a light.

“He has a fascination with electronics,” Mr. Glassburn said, adding that the resident has special needs and would not be identified to protect his privacy.

The inventor and other residents of his home had no idea that the device was wreaking havoc on the neighborhood, he said, until Mr. Glassburn and a volunteer with expertise in radio frequencies knocked on the door.

“The way he designed it, it was persistently putting out a 315 megahertz signal,” Mr. Glassburn said. That is the frequency many car fobs and garage door openers rely on.

“There was no malicious intent of the device,” he said in a statement.

The battery on the device was removed and the signal stopped. “It was a relief,” Mr. Glassburn said.

More broadly, the case is a reminder of the power of radio frequencies, Professor Wandt said.

“They are not inherently dangerous to a human being,” he said. “But they could cause mass chaos in our technologically advanced society in ways we cannot predict.”

Offline Pigmeat

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2019, 1613 UTC »
It's well known that Ohio drivers are the worst on the continent, Al. Slow, all over the road, can't handle steep slopes or curves. In mid-late May they head down I-77 and over to what they consider paradise, that sand bank between the Atlantic and the swamps known as Myrtle Beach, leaving a trail of wrecks and destruction on the way down and the way back.

The NSA was likely behind it as a public service measure with the vacation season around the corner. It will sure save me on ammo this year, taking them out as they pass by. You can only shoot at them during daylight hours by state law. Who says the Federal Govt. is good for nothing?

Offline Josh

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2019, 1802 UTC »
If you live in/around Omaha you get used to the garage doors all over town opening by themself, courtesy of looking glass flights from Offut sending kw out at garage door opener frequency.

:D
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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2019, 2035 UTC »
But, you know what? You can't beat Cincinatti-style chili.

It's well known that Ohio drivers are the worst on the continent, Al. Slow, all over the road, can't handle steep slopes or curves. In mid-late May they head down I-77 and over to what they consider paradise, that sand bank between the Atlantic and the swamps known as Myrtle Beach, leaving a trail of wrecks and destruction on the way down and the way back.

The NSA was likely behind it as a public service measure with the vacation season around the corner. It will sure save me on ammo this year, taking them out as they pass by. You can only shoot at them during daylight hours by state law. Who says the Federal Govt. is good for nothing?

Offline Pigmeat

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2019, 1022 UTC »
That spaghetti with hot dog chili on top? Not fit for human consumption. It's made from roadkill and who knows what else? If you're going to beat it, make sure you kill it or it will go straight for your brain.

Not long after rf key fobs came out, a friend who worked at a car dealership and I went to a pizzeria for lunch. It was a large shopping complex. As we're heading out he goes, "Watch this!" He hit unlock on that fob, horns sounded and lights started flashing on every late model, high dollar vehicle in that parking lot. It was hilarious.

Does that Huppmobile of yours unlock electronically, Al?

Offline Josh

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2019, 1840 UTC »
Huppmobile? I thought it was a Hudson Hornet!
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Offline Pigmeat

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2019, 1717 UTC »
Ah, the old Hudson factory where they tried strapping their workers to the machines along the assembly line to get more production from them. Henry Ford was filled with rage, all he was allowed to do was turn hired thugs loose to beat his workers back to their places on the line.

I think ol' Hank was mad he didn't think of it first?

Offline Josh

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2019, 1722 UTC »
They (decades later)came out with rolling code inversion to thwart friends like yours, piggles, and the nerds hacked it more or less instantly with the magic of sdr.
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Offline KaySeeks

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #8 on: May 09, 2019, 2044 UTC »
Quote
The source of the problem was a homemade battery-operated device designed by a local resident to alert him if someone was upstairs when he was working in his basement.

Jeepers, perhaps a bit overpowered given that it was hosing things up for a few blocks around.

"..He thought it would be wise to connect his 1-Watt transmitter to an old TV antenna on his roof..."
Just somebody with a radio, a computer and a pair of headphones...

Offline Pigmeat

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2019, 1231 UTC »
They (decades later)came out with rolling code inversion to thwart friends like yours, piggles, and the nerds hacked it more or less instantly with the magic of sdr.

You're babbling again, Josh-By-Gosh.

Who are "they" and what's "piggles"? A group of men who sell jars of pickled snouts and pigs feet to Muslims and Jews?

When I was teenager, there was beer joint with great pizza ran by a woman known as "Mom". They had a fenced in beer garden where they funneled the slightly underage customers and sold them draft beer through a conveniently located sliding window near the end of the bar for a buck twenty five. Any sized container if you could get it through that window. Pig's feet and pickled egg jars were the choice of the FAA bunch that hung out there. (Future Alcoholics of America).

The only code I can remember was a simple one, "Old enough to grow mustache, old enough to drink beer.", and the words, "Hey Larry, fill it up again."


Offline KaySeeks

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #11 on: May 11, 2019, 2030 UTC »
One thing that I find interesting is that this guy caused unintended, harmful interference that impacted people (though apparently no one was hurt or killed) and he was not punished. In fact, his name was not revealed.

I'm not suggesting that he should be punished, but I find it interesting that AM/MW/FM pirates generally do not cause interference that impacts people's lives greatly (despite somewhat greatly overstated claims of potential interference) other than to some money-grubbing broadcasters and yet governments/PTT/whatever usually come down on them like a ton of bricks.
Just somebody with a radio, a computer and a pair of headphones...

Offline Josh

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2019, 1833 UTC »
The landed gentry and their enforcers do not take kindly to upstarts who do the same job for free.
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Offline Pigmeat

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #13 on: May 12, 2019, 2052 UTC »
The landed gentry and their enforcers do not take kindly to upstarts who do the same job for free.

Aren't you a self proclaimed descendant of one Jefferson Davis, President of The Confederacy? How'd that work out for that landed gentry? Does the family still have his wife's bonnets and shawls he used to get through Union pickets around Richmond?

How do I know about Jeff's garb on his brave near escape? My Great-Grandpa was one of the officers escorting him. It's always been family joke when someone brings up Davis escaping Richmond in drag, "That's a damned lie! He just borrowed his wife's hat and shawl when the Yankees came close. It wasn't like he was wearing her dress and make-up!"

We've been looking out for your ancestors illustrious reputation for over one hundred and sixty years. No need to thank us.

Offline ChrisSmolinski

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Re: A Mystery Frequency Disrupted Car Fobs in an Ohio City
« Reply #14 on: May 12, 2019, 2139 UTC »
How do I know about Jeff's garb on his brave near escape? My Great-Grandpa was one of the officers escorting him. It's always been family joke when someone brings up Davis escaping Richmond in drag, "That's a damned lie! He just borrowed his wife's hat and shawl when the Yankees came close. It wasn't like he was wearing her dress and make-up!"

My only ancestors in the US at the time of the Civil War were on my maternal grandfather's side - all Pennsylvania Dutch. My great great grandfather's brother, Jacob Derr, served in the infantry. I'll need to check the family lore and see if there's any stories of he and his fellow soldiers encountering any Confederates in drag.
Chris Smolinski
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eQSLs appreciated! csmolinski@blackcatsystems.com
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