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Keyless Car Thefts – Where Are We Now?

Apr 28, 2021

Reports of cars with keyless entry systems being stolen continue to make headlines. With data showing a continued increase in keyless car thefts between 2019 and 2020, with this type of theft now at a record high according to Tracker.

How do thieves target keyless car entry systems, how can you protect your vehicle and what is being done by manufacturers to address security vulnerabilities?

How does keyless car theft work?

Thieves typically target vehicles with a keyless entry system using a technique known as a ‘relay attack’. A vehicle with a keyless entry system doesn’t require the key to be entered into the lock to unlock it. Instead, the vehicle will unlock once the key comes to within a certain range of the vehicle – typically a short-range distance.

This is what thieves can take advantage of. Using 2 relay boxes they can trick the vehicle into thinking the key is nearby. One relay box is put near the vehicle, while another is placed near to where the car key is likely to be kept. This then allows the thieves to effectively lengthen the signal being sent between the key and car meaning they can unlock and drive the vehicle away.

And cars aren’t the only vehicles at risk. If your van has a keyless entry system, it will be just as susceptible to this type of theft as a car.

How can you protect your vehicle from keyless car theft?

Whilst your vehicle may be at risk from keyless theft, there are some steps that you can take to protect yourself

  1. Place your key into a bag or box which acts as a Faraday cage. These are widely available and can block a key’s signal from being transmitted to a relay device.
  2. Keep keys inside a closed drawer and away from windows and doors. Thieves rely on being able to access the keys signal so keeping the key as far away as possible from entry points to your home can help prevent this.
  3. Check your vehicle manual in case it is possible to temporarily turn off the key’s wireless signal.
  4. You could invest in a steering wheel lock or car alarm/immobiliser to try and deter would be thieves. Adding a tracking device to your car can also help recover it in the event that it is stolen.
  5. Review your security. Make your driveway as secure as possible – a bollard or lockable gates can help make it harder for thieves to make off with your car. You may also want to look at installing CCTV cameras as another deterrent.
  6. Keep the inside of your car tidy and removing signs of expensive equipment such as mobile phone chargers or work equipment if it is a van.

What can the car manufacturing industry do to address the issue of keyless car theft?

Due to continued increases in the prevalence of keyless car thefts, many calls have been made for car manufacturers to look closer at this issue and resolve any possible security flaws which may exist in their systems.

Thatcham Research have also launched security ratings to help consumers understand theft risk relating to vehicles they may be looking to buy. Any cars which are vulnerable to the relay attack are given a ‘Poor’ rating. It is hoped this may also encourage car manufacturers to take further action to address security vulnerabilities.

Steps some manufacturers are taking include:

  • Motion sensor technology being added to the key fob. This detects when the key has not moved for a set period of time and deactivates it so that signal is no longer emitted. Once the key is moved it reactivates.
  • Using different radio signals – using ultra-wide band technology to prevent thieves from picking up the signal

With motor thefts continuing to increase, it is important that you have adequate insurance in place to protect you if you should become a victim to this type of crime. And that you take steps to deter thieves from targeting your vehicle. If you have any questions about your vehicle insurance, whether for personal use of commercial use  then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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