It’s hard to outsmart the criminal element nowadays. No longer are they just a bunch of shady types with lock pick sets. No, these guys (and gals) are smart, sophisticated and devious.

This point was driven home recently as I read a report about the latest wave of car hacks. Apparently, these new-age car thieves are using an off-the-shelf radio signal interceptor that costs less than $50 to intercept the signal emitted by electronic key fobs. They then use that intercepted cryptographic signal to clone another key of the same type, though the right key is harder to find.

This is said to affect more than 100 million cars worldwide, including Volkswagens, Fords, Mitsubishis and Nissans. That’s bad news for owners of these brands, though the good news is that there are not a whole lot of criminals with the know-how to get the job done. Also, they have to be fairly close to the vehicle while the electronic key fob is activated to intercept the signal.

Whatever happened to the good ole’ days when car thieves just used slim jims to jimmy the door locks? As security precautions get more high-tech and cars get smarter we start to feel safe that our car won’t get jacked. This latest news is just another sad reminder that we’re never truly safe.

I haven’t had many cars broken into. The worst was when I was in high school and parked my shiny new (okay, it was only a couple of years younger than me and not so shiny) Chevy truck out on the streets around the old McKinney High School to go watch a football game. When I returned to the truck after the game my door had been popped and my plug-in amplifier was nowhere to be found. The joke was on those guys, however, because that amp was a piece of junk that wasn’t worth the time it took to get it out of the truck. Still, they were kind enough to take the time to unplug it instead of ripping it out and they didn’t even break my glass to get in the car. True gentlemen.

But these crime professionals today… well, they’re a different breed. The worst part about this whole key hack thing (besides the fact that it affects me personally) is that, if they get bold enough, the criminals who intercept these signals could theoretically publish the codes on the internet where other criminal types can access it, pull key codes from specific vehicles and make their way unheeded into that car. At least that’s what the people who are paid big money to be experts in this field have to say.

On the other hand, these same experts say that most people have no reason to be worried. Those who are being hacked the most – or those at the highest risk of being hacked – are those driving high-end luxury and sports cars, a smaller segment of the population. Regardless, this serves as a stark reminder that no matter how safe and secure we think we are there is always something lurking around that dark corner.

Rodney Williams is the managing editor for The Anna-Melissa Tribune, Van Alstyne Leader and Prosper Press. He can be contacted at news@amtrib.com, rwilliams@vanalstyneleader.com or rwilliams@prosperpressnews.com. Follow along on Twitter with Rodney Williams@GateHouseWeekly.