Fleet News

Thieves target keyless entry cars with ‘relay attack’

Vehicle theft

A new trend in vehicle theft termed ‘relay attack’, is allowing criminals to overcome existing vehicle security technology, such as immobilisers and keyless entry systems.

The new style attack uses a relay device and involves two criminals working together. One stands near the car being targeted and the other stands near the front door of the owner’s home to get in range of the key fob – often left on hallway tables or kitchen worktops. The device then picks up the key fob signal from inside the house and relays it to the car. Using this method, thieves are then able to drive away in a stolen vehicle in a matter of just a few seconds.

Tracker says Car criminals are now far more likely to be computer savvy, than have the ability to hot-wire a car.

 “At Tracker, we are seeing more thefts recorded as ‘stolen without the keys' which suggests   that electronic manipulation and cyber compromise are on the increase,” explains Andy Barrs, head of Police Liaison at Tracker.

“The new relay attack technique has gained significant ground in the US and Germany, but it’s also beginning to take hold in the UK, so vehicle owners need to protect themselves and their assets.”

According to German research, which tested vehicles from 30 manufacturers, the brands to particularly be on watch out for are BMW and Peugeot.  However, using a relay device, testers managed to unlock many vehicles and start the engine, with the BMW 7 Series, Ford Focus, Toyota Prius and VW Golf among the most affected models of vehicle.

Barrs added: “As relay attacks become even more prevalent, owners need to protect themselves, particularly since criminal gangs are routinely using relay devices to exploit weaknesses in keyless security systems across a broad range of manufacturers. These tools are readily available on the internet for as little as £80 and thefts typically occur in residential areas, where cars are parked relatively close to the house, especially at night.”

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  • Nick B - 10/08/2017 11:49

    Would anyone know if placing the key fob inside an aluminium alloy container with lid protect the fob. There is a product out there that protects contactless cards contained in an aluminium alloy holder

    • Pat - 10/08/2017 11:57

      It may work - metal biscuit tins often do the trick lined with foil. You can buy bespoke pouches on amazon that do the job even better. A modern age faraday cage! At least the manufacturers are ignoring the issue and still producing pointless keyless cars. They could add an option of "keyed" ignition as a security upgrade! Meanwhile owners and fleet pick up the bill caused by thefts.

  • Nigel Boyle - 10/08/2017 12:29

    A shame garages are not used more, they put paid to this practice!

  • Robin Orton - 10/08/2017 23:17

    Wow, these relay thefts. Here's a thought - why don't the makers use a lock, with a physical device - let's call it a 'key' - to unlock it. As an extra protection, you could have another lock - for example, on the steering - so it would be virtually impossible to steal the car without this special 'key'.......

  • M.Williams - 11/08/2017 16:40

    Less than £10 will buy a signal blocking Faraday bag which will block the signal from the key fob. Put your mobile phone inside it while you are on the move and it will also block the signal to/from the phone, make it less tempting to use when you should be concentrating on driving.....

  • John English - 13/08/2017 00:37

    Nick B: Yes, aluminum foil or a metal box will do. There are also pouches out there which are much more convenient and slip into your jeans. Same pouches are being used to protect fleets and rental lots for years now. Just google for "FobGuard".

  • Boris - 01/12/2017 09:54

    Hardly a "new trend". This vulnerability has been known about and exploited for years. It's obvious, simple to do and entry systems can only protect against it if the relay equipment introduces a significant time delay. Manufacturers are being very irresponsbile by rolling out keyless entry across more of their ranges. They all know the problems and the canned responses given in this article are meaningless noise. A remote with a button is more secure by several orders of magnitude.

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