New cars still vulnerable to keyless thefts as manufacturers slammed for being slow to respond


New cars including the latest Mazda, Subaru and Vauxhall models are still vulnerable to keyless thefts, according to a new report.

The study by Thatcham Research assessed the security features of 13 new cars and found that some were still coming to market with vulnerabilities.

Manufacturers have been criticised for being slow to respond to the threat of relay attacks by thieves which has been blamed for a spike in car thefts in recent years, as reported by The Times.

Pictured: Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium. Some cars such as the new Forrester were given a poor rating

Pictured: Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium. Some cars such as the new Forrester were given a poor rating

Pictured: Mazda CX-30. The new Mazda was given a poor rating by Thatcham

Pictured: Mazda CX-30. The new Mazda was given a poor rating by Thatcham

Pictured: Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100. The new Vauxhall was also given a poor rating

Pictured: Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100. The new Vauxhall was also given a poor rating

Vehicles that have a keyless system employ a very simple process. The fobs emit a short-range ‘friendly’ radio signal that carries only a few yards. 

Worst rated cars

Mazda CX-30

MG HS Excite T-GDI

Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium

Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100

When the associated vehicle is close by (usually within a few metres), the car recognises the signal and unlocks the doors.  

Thieves can intercept this by using an electrical relay system to gain immediate access to keyless cars. 

The latest figures for England and Wales show that 114,656 vehicle thefts were reported in 2018-19, up by 52 per cent in five years.  

Pictured: BMW X6 M50d. The new BMW was given a 'superior' rating by the Thatcham report

Pictured: BMW X6 M50d. The new BMW was given a ‘superior’ rating by the Thatcham report

Pictured: Land Rover Discovery Sport D150. The new Land Rover was also given a 'superior' rating

Pictured: Land Rover Discovery Sport D150. The new Land Rover was also given a ‘superior’ rating

Pictured: Porsche Taycan Turbo. The new Porsche was also given a 'superior' rating

Pictured: Porsche Taycan Turbo. The new Porsche was also given a ‘superior’ rating

Best rated cars

BMW X6 M50d

BMW 218i Gran Coupe M Sport

Land Rover Discovery Sport D150

Mini EV

Porsche Taycan Turbo

Škoda Superb

Toyota Supra

A number of manufacturers have now introduced a motion key sensor fob that goes to sleep when not being used.

This prevents thieves from manipulating the signal. But the report says that this does not go far enough and that the keyless vulnerability needs to be ‘designed-out’ of new vehicles completely.

The latest ratings showed that the BMW X6 M50d, BMW 218i Gran Coupe M Sport, Land Rover Discovery Sport D150, Mini EV, Porsche Taycan, Škoda Superb and Toyota Supra all gained ‘superior’ ratings.

The cars rated ‘poor’ were the Mazda CX-30, MG HS Excite T-GDI, Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium and Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100. 

High-tech car thieves working together can steal your keyless car within a few seconds

High-tech car thieves working together can steal your keyless car within a few seconds

How to protect your vehicle

Every make and model of car which can start ‘keylessly’ is susceptible to a relay attack.

While this might put drivers on edge, there are easy steps you can take to stop you becoming the next victim of a relay theft.

Certain metals are capable of blocking key signals, which means if you store your fob with one of these metals around it, criminals won’t be able to pick them up and steal your vehicle.

The most simple and most ingenious is a metal can. 

The aluminum in a drinks can will stop radio signals being transmitted from your key and stop burglars in their tracks.

Some experts have suggested keeping your keys in the fridge, as the material on the inside will block signals too.

If you’re looking for a low-cost option, some people wrap their fobs in tin foil – although this isn’t endorsed by security firms.

Keeping your keys in a small metal box however can work efficiently. 

Special faraday pouches — cheap wallets which shield the key’s radio signal from being transmitted — are also useful for storing your keys when you’re away from home – in motorway service stations and public car parks.

Experts also encourage drivers to keep them at least 5m away from their front door, to give thieves the worst chance of being able to relay a signal.

But some security specialists advise against hiding your car keys too obscurely in your house — because if serious criminals truly want to steal your car, they will break in and do anything to find the keys.

 Richard Billyeald, Chief Technical Officer, Thatcham Research comments, ‘The keyless vulnerability continues to be a concern to car owners. However, it is not the only factor behind recent increases in vehicle theft.’

‘Our assessment found that the rated Hyundai, MG and Tesla models are missing some commonly accepted security measures. 

These measures were introduced to improve core car security and represent the minimum today’s drivers should expect, whatever the vehicle price point.’

Any vehicle with keyless entry could be vulnerable to relay theft.

It is not illegal to sell or own a relay box device and the only way police can arrest someone is under the ‘going equipped to steal’ law — meaning they would have to catch the thief red-handed with it, or prove an intent to use it for theft.

The same law applies to other gadgets supposedly designed to help owners who have lost their keys, such as key programmer devices, which tell the car to trust a new key and forget the code for the original one.

But police sources, security experts and locksmiths specialising in vehicles have all said there is ‘no legitimate reason’ to be in possession of a relay device.

If a driver was to lose their key, a relay box wouldn’t help them get back into their car, as the devices only work when the key is nearby.

Mr Billyeald added:  ‘The number of carmakers now offering Relay Attack counter-measures with new vehicles is steadily increasing and should be applauded. 

‘However, all new cars with keyless systems ought to have a solution to this long-standing vulnerability in place.’

‘It’s also important to remember that the motion-sensor fob, while a good short-term fix, is not the ultimate solution to the keyless vulnerability, which should be designed-out of new vehicles completely in the future.’



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