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Manufacturers Hit Back at Keyless Car Theft

By Phil Gardner | November 11, 2019


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Motion sensors to be fitted to key fobs to reduce relay thefts.

Manufacturers Hit Back at Keyless Car Theft

Keyless car theft has been getting huge amounts of attention over the last few years. It’s a relatively new form of car theft and, in a lot of cases, there’s very little the victim can do to prevent being targeted. The criminals know which cars to target and it’s seemingly easy pickings for them.

More than 106,00 cars were stolen in the UK in 2018 alone, which is the highest annual figure in 8 years. The knock-on effect is a seven-year high in car insurance payouts, with motorists footing the bill through raised car insurance premiums.

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What is keyless car theft?

Keyless car theft is when criminal gangs use signal-relaying equipment to intercept and replicate the signals sent from the key fob of cars that have keyless entry and keyless start functionality. These are, typically, high-end cars too - which makes the crime particularly lucrative for criminal gangs as these vehicles are more valuable to be re-sold or broken for parts.

These crimes have been going on for a fair while and they actually expose a huge design fault in the security systems used by manufacturers, who have been slow to react and address these security flaws, until now…

Thatcham Research has created new technology which will put owners car key fobs into a ‘sleep mode’ when they haven’t detected motion for a short period of time. In sleep mode, the keys will not emit any of the signals which criminals are intercepting. So, in theory, if you put your keys into a drawer or on a tray when you get home, after a short while your car will be protected from keyless theft. It seems like quite an easy fix, but it’s taken a slightly concerning amount of time for manufacturers to react, and it’s still only just being rolled out by manufacturers.

This isn’t quite a complete solution for motorists who want to protect themselves from keyless car theft, because some fobs go into a silent mode within a minute or two, some manufacturers are putting delays up to 30 minutes in their fobs, which increases the window of opportunity for the criminals considerably.

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The chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, Richard Billyeald, said 'It's positive news for consumers that carmakers, in increasing measure, are making this fix available,'

'The motion sensor fob is a good short-term option, but the goal for carmakers must be to design out the vulnerability entirely.

'Until then, a fundamental security flaw remains.

'We urge manufacturers to bring keyless technology to market in secure form and remove from drivers the onus to provide additional security.

'Closer collaboration on the design and implementation of new technologies is the key to identifying vulnerabilities before they entrench in the vehicle parc.'

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These changes will not be retrospectively fitted to older vehicles as although these vehicles have a huge security flaw, manufacturers have chosen not to issue any recalls for this reason. So, if you’ve got a vehicle with keyless entry and keyless start, there are a few things to do to keep your vehicle secure:

  • Keep your keys away from the exterior walls, windows or doorways.
  • Invest in a Faraday key pouch which will block any signals being intercepted from your keys.
  • Turn off the functionality within the vehicles computer settings.
  • Lastly, you can retrofit an engine immobiliser.

We’re looking forward to (hopefully) seeing the motion-activated key fobs being rolled out across all manufacturers, but are the car makers currently doing enough to combat relay thefts? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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