Keyless entry and starting may aid car-theft

230 of 237 vehicles tested were susceptible to theft without need for keys

Published: January 31, 2019, 3:35 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 2:56 PM

Relay Attack car theft

A report out of the UK is validating many car-owners’ fears about increasing vehicular technology — four out of the five best selling models in the UK are susceptible to keyless theft.

Consumer research, testing and advocacy firm Which? reported that the German General Automobile Club (ADAC) tested 237 vehicles that use keyless technology for locking and unlocking doors and starting the engine, and found that 230 of them can be tricked into unlocking and starting, using what’s called a Relay Attack. Four of the models could be unlocked or started (but not both), and only three (Jaguar i-Pace, Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover) weren’t affected.

The Relay Attack tricks the vehicle on-board computer into thinking the transponder key fob is closer than it is. Thieves can set up a laptop or tablet near a window or door close to where the keyfob is believed to be, and capture a key code that is then relayed to another computer or tablet beside the vehicle, which believes the key is beside the car and unlocks the driver’s side door, and then another code is relayed to allow the car to start. The entire snatch-and-drive operation can take as little as 18 seconds.

“Car makers have sacrificed the security of scores of modern cars for the sake of convenience,” reported writer Ben Slater. “Some 99% of the cars tested are insecure. And, with other methods of car theft also rife and the number of cars being stolen on the rise, manufacturers must do more to make their cars more secure.”

Among the cars with keyless technology that fared poorly in the ADAC testing are four of the best-selling cars worldwide — Ford Fiesta and Focus, Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Golf.

A report from vehicle tracking and telematics company Tracker indicates that 88% of the stolen cars recovered using Tracker technology in 2018 had been stolen without using the owners’ keys (up from 80% the previous year and from 66% in 2016). And that accounts for less than half of the vehicles stolen, since UK police report that 50% of stolen vehicles are never recovered.

“Car theft is much lower than it was 30 years ago, but it’s on the rise again, with some pointing the finger at keyless technology,” says Clive Wain, Tracker’s Head of Police Liaison. “It’s worth remembering that vehicle security should be multi-layered and shouldn’t just rely on a keyless security system. Traditional physical barriers, such as crook locks and wheel clamps can help deter thieves, but in the event of a car being stolen, vehicle tracking technology plays a powerful role in outwitting thieves.”