U.K. Car Thieves Exploiting Keyless-Entry Systems

Thieves are using sophisticated signal scanning equipment to obtain a vehicle’s wireless entry code to steal cars parked in owners’ driveways.

Paul Myles, European Editor

December 13, 2017

2 Min Read
Car thieves adding electronic gadgetry to tools of trade
Car thieves adding electronic gadgetry to tools of trade.

LONDON – A wave of car thefts exploiting keyless technology is placing 96% of U.K. car owners at risk, a survey claims.

Thieves are using sophisticated signal scanning equipment to obtain a vehicle’s wireless entry code to steal cars parked in owners’ driveways.

Research by vehicle-security specialist Tracker suggests almost all owners of cars with keyless entry are at risk of having their vehicles stolen by this tech-savvy generation of thieves. It says 66% of customers who had stolen vehicles recovered in 2016 were victims of a so-called relay attack, confirming how prevalent this crime has become.

One of the major problems is that 25% of those surveyed said they leave their car keys somewhere in the hallway overnight. This is the most common room in the house for thieves to target to intercept an electronic car key’s signal, and it’s where the signal is likely to be strongest because of its proximity to the vehicle itself.

A relay attack involves two criminals working together using electronic signal relay devices. One device receives the car key signal from inside the victim’s home and transfers that signal to the second box placed next to the car, which then can be driven away in seconds.

Tracker’s survey shows 13% of people leave their keys on the hallway table; 25% leave their keys in a dedicated key pot or on a key hook elsewhere downstairs; and 15% put them in a drawer in a downstairs room – all within range of a scanner.

“We’re seeing more and more of these relay attacks taking place across the country,” explains Andy Barrs, head of police liaison at Tracker. “It’s clear from our survey that many people are unintentionally leaving themselves vulnerable to these kinds of attack by putting their keys in easy reach of relay devices.

“The good news is there are simple precautions people can take. Whilst the relay devices can receive signals through walls, doors and windows, metal is its enemy, so putting keys in a metal tin or the microwave is a cost-effective way to thwart the criminals. Alternatively, invest in a metallized signal-blocking pouch, such as a Faraday wallet, which is designed to shield electronic keys from relay attacks.

“It’s also worth remembering that vehicle security should be multi-layered and shouldn’t just rely on the keyless security system. Physical barriers such as crook locks and wheel clamps will deter thieves. And whilst investing in a tracking device won’t stop a car being stolen, it can significantly increase the chances of police locating it and returning it to the rightful owner.”

About the Author(s)

Paul Myles

European Editor, Informa Group

Paul Myles is an award-winning journalist based in Europe covering all aspects of the automotive industry. He has a wealth of experience in the field working at specialist, national and international levels.

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