Worrying Trend for Keyless Car Theft

July 18, 2019

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), Home Office statistics show that In 2018 insurers paid out a record £376m for car theft, up 27% on the year before. There were more than 110,000 vehicle thefts in 2017/18 – up 10% on the year before and the highest level for a decade.

Laurenz Gerger, Policy Adviser for Motor Insurance at the ABI, said:

“Car thieves have been having a field day lately. Crime stats show vehicle thefts at their highest level for a decade. Insurers paid out a record £376 million for car theft in 2018, which was partly driven by the vulnerability of some cars to keyless relay theft. Making these assessments public should spur motor manufacturers to take swift action to tackle this high-tech vulnerability. Meantime, consumers deserve to know how secure their cars are so they can take the necessary steps to reduce the likelihood that they become victims of crime.”

Keyless entry

A vast number of cars are manufactured with keyless entry systems, which allows owners to open their vehicle as long as the key is nearby, for example, in a bag or pocket, offering convenience to drivers. But this can be exploited by criminals.

Keyless entry works with a remote that acts as a shortrange radio transmitter, and once in range (usually around 15 metres), a push of a button unlocks the car. Relay station attacks (RSA) use a signal transmitter and receiver. The signal from the car key is relayed to a receiver near the car, the car thinks the key is present and allows the car to be unlocked and started.

New security ratings

Thatcham Research has launched security ratings to help consumers better understand the theft risk of new cars against a back drop of rising vehicle thefts. The new ratings assess whether measures to specifically address the keyless entry/start vulnerability, have been adopted. The ratings are ‘superior’, ‘good’, ‘poor’ and ‘unacceptable’, and they’re awarded based on how well a car performs in a range of security tests.

Richard Billyeald, Chief Technical Officer at Thatcham Research comments: “This initiative focuses on addressing keyless entry/start vulnerability. We’ve seen too many examples of cars being stolen in seconds from driveways. Now, any vehicle that is assessed against the new Thatcham Research Security Rating, and has a vulnerable keyless entry/start system, will automatically not achieve the best rating.

“Security has come a long way since vehicle crime peaked in the early 1990s. But the layers of security added over the years count for nothing when they can be circumvented instantly by criminals using digital devices. The shame is that most of the cars rated ‘Poor’ would have achieved at least a ‘Good’ rating had their keyless entry/start systems not been susceptible to the Relay Attack.”

“Our guidance for worried drivers is first and foremost to understand if your vehicle has a keyless entry/start system or not, as it is often an optional extra. If it does, check whether there are solutions available with your key fob – can it be turned off overnight or does it go to sleep when not being used?

“Faraday shielding pouches can be effective but test them first to make sure they do block the signal. Many are designed for credit cards so make sure they still close fully with a set of keys inside, to ensure maximum effectiveness.

“Storing all sets of keys, spares included, away from household entry points is also important as it hampers the criminal’s ability to relay the signal.

“And finally, it may in some cases be possible to turn the system off entirely, so it’s worth checking with your dealer.”

  • Park your vehicle in a well lit and secure area
  • Keep your keys far away from external doors and windows
  • Turn off the signal overnight, or keep keys in a signal-blocking pouch
  • Consider having your vehicle fitted with a tracking device to increase the likelihood it can be recovered

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