What is a Fob? A key fob is the small handheld remote control device that controls a remote keyless entry system. When you press the button on your keys and hear the comforting chirp of your car’s unlocking mechanism, you can thank the humble but mighty key fob. But there’s a lot more to key fob technology than you might realize.
Key fobs are the perfect example of a technology that many people use constantly but don’t give much thought to. These tiny handheld devices have been revolutionary for the development of remote keyless entry systems, automotive and otherwise, and all it takes is a few minutes of losing yours to realize how important key fobs are for many people’s lifestyles.
What is a Fob?
A key fob is a small, programmable device that provides access to a physical object. Also known as a hardware token, a key fob provides on-device, one-factor authentication to facilitate access to a system or device, such as a car, computer system, restricted area or room, mobile device, network service or other kind of keyless entry system.
With a key fob, the user does not have to unlock the device with a real key as with manual locks. In addition to providing remote-enabled access, the key fob is more convenient and more secure.
Key fobs are among a class of physical security tokens that includes smart cards, proximity cards and biometric keyless entry fobs.
How a key Fob works?
A key fob contains a short-range radio transmitter/radio frequency identification (RFID) chip and antenna. It uses radio frequencies to send a distinct coded signal to a receiver unit in the device.
This receiver also contains an RFID tag, which is some form of stored information. The reader’s transmitter sends a signal to the fob, which then adjusts to the transmitter’s frequency. The communication between the fob and the receiver device happens instantaneously when the user presses a button on the fob.
The RFID chip on the key fob is designed to transmit specific RFID tag information. This information always matches what the receiver device has been programmed to accept.
For example, a key fob programmed to work with a car will only lock or unlock that car, and no other key fob will work with that car. So, if the information from the receiver tag matches the information that the fob is requesting, the locking or unlocking function will be completed. If there is a mismatch, the function will not be performed.
RFID key fobs often can be programmed to transmit various commands. For example, automotive key fobs often have different functions assigned to different buttons; in addition to remote vehicle lock and unlock, these functions include the following:
- starting the ignition
- arming or disarming the security system
- popping the latch on the trunk
- controlling automatic windows
Advantages of a key Fob
There are several advantages to using a key fob system, whether for an automobile or for a different application. Among the most important advantages of key fobs are:
- Reliability: Copied keys can be unreliable, particularly if they’ve been made using substandard materials or equipment. A high-quality RFID chip is a reliable and long-lasting solution.
- Security: Physical keys can be lost and copied to gain unauthorized access, but a misplaced key fob can be deactivated remotely.
- Reprogramming: It’s easy to reprogram key fobs and locks when a fob is misplaced, replacing the expense and hassle of physically replacing locks.
- Convenience: Key fobs make it incredibly fast and easy to unlock a vehicle or anything else with an electronic lock system. They can also make everyday tasks easier for people with disabilities that make it hard to turn a physical key.
- Size: Multi-button key fobs offer an easy way to consolidate numerous functions into a small and highly portable package.
- Access Levels: Key fobs can be customized to provide access only to certain areas, which makes them excellent for applications that require restricted access.
- Battery: Some key fob devices (called passive key fobs) have no need for a battery because they are powered by the magnetic energy transmitted between the antenna and the reader. Many of today’s key fobs do use a battery, but these watch cell-style batteries last a long time before needing to be changed.
The advantages that a key fob offers have driven its increasingly widespread adoption and advanced development. But it took some time for the device to acquire its current form.
Key fobs and multifactor authentication
Key fobs are also used as one of the authentication factors for devices that require two-factor (2FA) or multifactor authentication (MFA). These authentication methods help safeguard a company’s network, devices, applications and data.
Unlike traditional password-only systems, MFA requires more than one method of authentication to verify a user’s identity before they can access any of these assets. These factors are as follows:
- possession: something you have
- inherence: something you are
- knowledge: something you know
The use of such multiple factors makes it difficult for bad actors to steal or compromise credentials and harm the company in other ways. It thus provides more reliable and stronger security than passwords.
In typical key fob deployment in a 2FA/MFA system, the user first enters a personal identification code to log in to the network or device. The fob generates a pseudo-random token code, also known as a passcode, that validates the user to confirm they are legitimate and authorized to access the system or network. Once the validation is complete, the user is given access.
The passcode only works for a certain amount of time — 30 to 60 seconds. If the user fails to input this passcode into the system within this period, it automatically times out, and they won’t be able to use it again. To access the system or service, they need to regenerate the passcode on the fob.
Others uses for key Fobs
A key fob can serve many other purposes besides controlling vehicle systems. Any time that a system needs a convenient handheld control method, a key fob can be a great choice. That’s because multiple key fobs can be programmed to correspond with the same reader through what’s called an open-access platform.
One common application for open-access key fobs is creating secure access systems for buildings without requiring the use of physical keys. Not only are physical keys a potential security risk, they’re also cumbersome to carry around if numerous discrete points of access are necessary.
Instead, an apartment building owner (for example) could create tenant key fobs that access a single unit and common areas without providing access to other units or restricted areas.
Key fobs are also a great way to create controlled access in commercial and industrial facilities. Using backend software that controls all connected RFID readers from a common server, facility administrators can program key fobs remotely and create multiple levels of access. This is a great solution in facility types ranging from factories to hospitals.
Small household devices that need a remote control, such as garage door openers, are another popular application for remote key fobs. The convenient, pocket-sized nature of key fob enclosures makes them ideal for these everyday applications, and their security features help keep homes safer.
Key Fob security
It’s crucial that the manufacturers of any wireless remote device take the steps to ensure the device is secure. While wireless RFID key fobs are in general more secure than physical keys, they can still be vulnerable to certain exploits when not properly secured. Thieves have unfortunately been able to use these tactics to steal cars, break into houses and commit other crimes.
Today’s key fobs include many security features to prevent their signals from being intercepted and copied. Most key fobs use pseudo-random sequence generators to transmit a unique unlock sequence every time. Because the key fob’s RFID system is keyed to the same sequence, the new code will activate the lock, but an old code captured and reproduced from it won’t.
If security is a top concern for your key fob application, it’s easy to add extra measures to keep your key fobs more secure. For example, some key fob systems keep a permanent record of which fobs have been used to enter and when they were used.
It’s also easy to change locks when necessary. Rather than having to have the lock physically re-keyed, it can be reprogrammed to change its authentication procedures.
What does FOB stand for key?
The word “fob” was likely derived from the German fuppe, meaning “pocket.” Before key fobs were an electronic device, they were another word for decorative keychains throughout the 20th century.
What is the difference between key fob and key remote?
While it’s technically called a remote key, the word “key” evokes the image of a traditional metal key with a head and blade. Most people refer to remote keys as key fobs, and if you’ve got one of those with a couple of buttons on it, that’s exactly what we’re talking about.
Is a key fob keyless entry?
Keyless entry is a convenient system that removes the need for a physical key to unlock car doors. A “fob” or keychain, whether it’s in your hand, in a pocket, or in your bag, will unlock the door hands-free. The same fob works to start the engine.
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