We tested wireless jamming out for ourselves in this odd-looking setup designed to contain the RF interference. Tyler Lizenby/CNET
Wireless Jamming 101
Jamming concerns are nothing new, and they're not unique to security systems. Any device that's built to receive a wireless signal at a specific frequency can be overwhelmed by a stronger signal coming in on the same frequency. For comparison, let's say you wanted to "jam" a conversation between two people - all you'd need to do is yell in the listener's ear.
Jamming a wireless radio requires knowledge of its broadcast frequency as well as the right equipment to jam that frequency. It also requires criminal intent, because jamming is highly illegal. Buying or selling these devices without the right certifications is often illegal, too.
Security devices are required to list the frequencies they broadcast on - that means that a potential thief can find what they need to know with minimal Googling. They will, however, need to know what system they're looking for. If you have a sign in your yard declaring what setup you use, that'd point them in the right direction, though at that point, we're talking about a highly targeted, semi-sophisticated attack, and not the sort of forced-entry attack that makes up the majority of burglaries.
It's easier to find and acquire jamming equipment for some frequencies than it is for others. For instance, there's a great deal of common radio equipment that broadcasts at the 400Mhz range, making it easier to find something off of the shelf that will jam at those frequencies.
Some systems use software to detect intentional RF interference. Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET
Wireless security providers will often take steps to help combat the threat of jamming attacks. , winner of our Editors' Choice distinction, utilizes a proprietary algorithm that's capable of separating incidental RF interference from targeted jamming attacks. When the system thinks it's being jammed, it'll notify you via push alert. From there, it's up to you to sound the alarm manually.
SimpliSafe was singled out in one recent article on jamming, complete with a video showing the entire system being effectively bypassed with handheld jamming equipment. After taking appropriate measures to contain the RF interference to our test lab, we tested the attack out for ourselves, and were able to verify that it's possible with the right equipment.
We were able to jam SimpliSafe's sensors, but the system detected we were doing it and sent us an alert. Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET
However, we also verified that SimpliSafe's antijamming algorithm works. It caught us in the act, sent an alert to my smartphone, and also listed our RF interference on the system's event log. The team behind the article and video in question make no mention of the algorithm, or whether or not it detected them.
We like the proprietary nature of that software. It means that a thief likely wouldn't be able to Google how the algorithm works, then figure out a way around it. Even if they could, SimpliSafe claims that its algorithm is always evolving, and that it varies slightly from system to system, which means there wouldn't be a universal magic formula for cracking it.