Fleet News

Thatcham offers security tips to counter keyless car 'relay-attack' thieves

car thief looking through window of car.

Thatcham is offering tips to help drivers battle the recent spate of ‘relay attack’ thefts targeting keyless entry systems on vehicles in the UK.

The UK media has recently picked up on CCTV footage of the new trend for criminals to overcome existing vehicle security technology using a vulnerability in a vehicle’s keyless entry system, with criminals amplifying or capturing the signal from a keyless or ‘smart’ fob.

Keyless fobs, which should not be confused with standard remote fobs, allow drivers to easily open and start their vehicle without pressing the fob or even having to remove it from their pocket.

Richard Billyeald, Thatcham Research chief technical officer, said Thatcham is working closely with the police and vehicle manufacturers to address the vulnerability.

He said: “Keyless entry systems on cars offer convenience to drivers, but can in some situations be exploited by criminals.

“Concerned drivers should contact their dealer for information and guidance, and follow our simple security steps.”

Recent ONS data states that 91,000 vehicles were stolen in 2016, up from 70,000 in 2013. However, this data relates to all vehicles, including mopeds, motorbikes and vans. Car crime peaked in 1992, a year which saw 620,000 thefts.

Figures revealing the exact number of cars which have been compromised using the transmitter relay attack are not available, due to the way vehicle thefts are recorded

Thatcham Research's five security tips for drivers with keyless entry systems

  1. Contact your dealer and talk about the digital features in your car. Have there been any manufacturer software updates you can take advantage of to increase security?
  2. Check if your keyless entry fob can be turned off. If it can, and your dealer can also confirm this, then do so overnight.
  3. Store your keys away from household entry points. Keeping your keyless entry fob out of sight is not enough – thieves only need to gain proximity to the key to amplify its signal.
  4. Be vigilant. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity in your neighbourhood – and report anything unusual to the police.
  5. Review your car security. Consider aftermarket security devices such as Thatcham-approved mechanical locks and trackers, which are proven to deter thieves.

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