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Is it safe, can it be hacked? Hyundai’s Digital Key explained

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At a recent couple launches for the Genesis G90 and Hyundai Palisade, Hyundai Motor America touted its new Digital Key, which essentially allows you to ditch the key fob and use a phone to enter and start the vehicles.

It’s a neat trick, but when we talked about it on a recent Livestream, there were questions. So. Many. Questions. Therefore, we went to C.J. Eckman, manager of IoT & Connected Car at Hyundai Motor America, and had him get us answers.

So, here’s what we know. And if you have any other questions below, please ask in the comments and we’ll be happy to follow up with Eckman.

What is Digital Key and how does it work?

The Hyundai and Genesis Digital Key turns your iPhone, Apple Watch or Samsung phone into a car key. With Digital Key you can leave your proximity key at home and use your phone or Apple Watch to unlock, lock and drive your car.

When your phone is your key, there are many advantages. The first is key sharing. With Digital Key you are able to share access to your vehicle by simply sending a text message. You can also instantly revoke a key. The second major advantage is remote profile integration. When using Digital Key, the car will recognize who is driving the car and automatically load profile settings such as Integrated memory seat, mirror settings, navigation settings and more.

Is Digital Key hackable?

Hyundai Digital Key utilizes Near Field Communication (NFC) technology and Ultra Wide Band (UWB), which exhibits a high level of security. All our technology is PEN tested to ensure the utmost security and safety.

Do I need cell service for it to work? (i.e. what if I’m in the middle of nowhere – will it still work?)

No, cell service is not required. Digital Key will work offline.

What if my phone dies? Can I still get in the vehicle?

If your phone battery goes very low you can still access Digital Key using power reserve. Additionally, Express Mode cards, passes and keys on your iPhone can be used, even when your device needs to be charged. Check compatible iPhone models to verify, but power reserve mode kicks in when Express Mode is turned on for up to 5 hours when your iPhone needs to be charged.

What if I lose my phone or someone steals it? Can someone steal my car, too?

You can protect your Digital Key by requiring the phone to be unlocked using FaceID or TouchID to unlock and drive your vehicle. Additionally, because Digital Key is integrated into our Connected Services system, the owner of the phone/vehicle can instantly delete the digital key from the vehicle.

What if your phone gets wet? Will it still work?

We have not tested this.

Is Digital Key more or less secure than an actual key fob?

Digital Key is more secure than a traditional key fob. Unlike a traditional key fob, Digital Key is secured using biometrics in order to access the vehicle. Also, the vehicle owner can instantly delete the Digital Key and revoke access to any and all digital keys.

What are the benefits of a digital key over a regular fob or traditional key? (There are still a lot of people out there who want a physical key)

The main benefits are the following:

  • Convenience. Our phones have replaced many things in our lives: our calendars, our address books, our cameras, wallets and, now, our car keys.  By using Digital Key, you have one less thing to carry when you are out and about.
  • Sharing. You no longer need to meet up to hand over keys if someone needs to borrow your car.

Can you keep the “valet card” in the car and still lock it with your digital key on your phone?

Yes. The NFC Card can be left in your wallet or inside your vehicle. To start your car, place your NFC Card Key on the wireless phone charger.

Can you use both the digital key and the fob, or do you have to pick one or the other?

Drivers can use any of the following at anytime: their traditional proximity key, up to 4 Digital Keys or one NFC Card Key.

What if it just doesn’t work?

We recommend drivers keep their NFC Card Key in their wallet as a back up.

The bottom line on Digital Key

Hyundai’s Digital Key makes a lot of sense for those of us who use our phones for wallets, calendars, mini computers and, well, everything in between. It’s just one less thing you have to remember when you leave the house, and it actually makes your car more difficult to steal.

Now if only my phone could cook me a homemade meal …

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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