Last year we reported on a very real theft risk for keyless vehicle owners, highlighting the vulnerability of keyless entry cars due to techniques employed by thieves such as signal relaying, key programming and signal jamming.
Since we covered it, the issue has continued to make the news, with reports as recent as this month hitting the headlines detailing how some of the UK’s newest and most popular cars remain at risk of being stolen in seconds by exploiting weaknesses in keyless entry systems.
BBC News reported how What Car? magazine had tested seven different car models fitted with keyless entry and start systems. A Land Rover Discovery Sport was compromised within just 30 seconds, and a DS 3 Crossback in as few as 10 seconds. Some cars, including the Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost, were stolen in 60 seconds but only using an active ‘smart key’. Security experts at What Car? tested the vehicles with the same technology used by thieves.
Car thefts at an eight-year high
Rates of car thefts in England and Wales have hit an eight-year high. Over 106,000 vehicles were stolen in 2018 and vehicle theft insurance claim payouts reached their highest level in seven years at the beginning of 2019. According to the Association of British insurers, claims for the period running from January to March were higher than for any quarter since 2012, citing a rise in keyless car crime as one of the culprits.
Some car manufacturers, such as the PSA Group, the parent company of DS, are working with the police to analyse theft methods and treat potential security weaknesses. Jaguar Land Rover stated that the model tested by What Car? was no longer in production, and that the current Discovery Sport features relay attack technology.
New anti-relay theft technology from Ford
Ford has also recently announced the launch of a key fob that it claims makes its cars resistant to relay thefts. The upgraded fob, supplied with all new Fiesta superminis, features a ‘sleep mode’. This triggers if the motion sensor doesn’t detect movement for more than 40 seconds, rendering it impossible to access the vehicle. As soon as movement is detected, such as grabbing the keys when leaving the house, the fob reverts to regular operation.
Ford says the new fobs will be issued as standard across its entire range by 2021. All Focus models built after May 2019 will feature the new key. Replacement fobs are also on offer to existing Focus and Fiesta owners. For the Focus built from 2018 and the Fiesta from 2017, the cost of the fob is in the region of £180, and for the Fiesta ST built from 2017, customers are looking at around £200. Prices include programming and testing, a process which takes up to an hour. Focus and Fiesta owners are advised to speak to their local dealers to find out more.
Signal relay theft – a recap
Keyless entry and keyless start use a fob that emits a short range radio signal. When the vehicle is in range of a few metres, the car recognises the signal and automatically unlocks the doors. If the vehicle is fitted with a start button, the same system fires the ignition.
Signal relay theft involves the use of wireless transmitters. Thieves hold these up to a window or the front door of the house, or the bag or pocket of the vehicle owner. The transmitters capture the signal from the fob and relay it to a target vehicle. An accomplice waiting by the vehicle captures the signal, which tricks the car into unlocking. They then repeat the process to get the car to start.
This What Car? video demonstrates how the process works:
How to combat relay theft?
If there is not yet a special anti-theft fob available for your particular keyless vehicle, you can follow these tips designed to help prevent signal relay theft:
- Store your car keys in a tin or a special signal blocking box when at home, and carry them in a shielded wallet such as a Faraday pouch when out and about.
- Security measures such as CCTV and sensor lighting act as deterrents to thieves, so consider installing these at your home, especially if your car is kept on a drive or outside your property.
- Steering wheel locks make it pretty much impossible for thieves to drive away if they do manage to compromise the locking system.
- Tracking devices, often an optional extra when purchasing a higher value vehicle, are efficient at aiding recovery in the event that a theft does occur. These can also be added to many vehicles retrospectively.
- It is sometimes possible, on certain makes and models, to deactivate keyless entry systems altogether. Your car dealer will be able to provide guidance on this.
- Finally, certain keyless fobs can be switched off completely. Make this a habit as soon as you get home, or park up anywhere.
Vehicle Insurance Solutions from Robert Gerrard
With car thefts at an eight year high, you will naturally want to have complete peace of mind that your vehicle is sufficiently insured, especially if it is a keyless model. At Robert Gerrard we offer helpful expertise and tailored insurance solutions to suit a variety of requirements, including specialist cover for high value, performance, prestige and collectors’ models. You are welcome to contact us for a quotation that is bespoke to your specific needs.