Keyless entry systems are becoming the standard on today’s new cars. But while there’s no denying their convenience, security vulnerabilities mean that criminals, using a series of sophisticated methods, can still gain access and start the engine.
Such instances have led manufacturers and insurers to improve the security offerings of keyless cars, but when you consider that a German motoring organisation tested 237 cars and their keyless systems and only three were able to repel a keyless attack, it seems there's still a way to go when it comes to preventing thefts of such vehicles.
As thieves become more advanced in their approach, it's important to be more vigilant than ever with regards to securing your car. To keep yours safe, we'll detail some of the ways you can prevent the theft of keyless cars.
Since keyless cars don't use a traditional metal key, a digital fob, card or smartphone app is used to gain entry and start the engine. As long as the digital key is detected, powering up the car is as simple as pushing a button.
Keyless car theft, then, is when a thief accesses and steals your vehicle without possessing the original fob or card. There are several different methods of carrying this out, all of which essentially involve fooling the car into thinking the digital key is being used. These methods include the following:
Signal relaying: Relay thieves use wireless transmitters held up to the front door, window or even the handbag or pocket of a car owner, to capture the signal from a genuine digital key and transmit it to the target vehicle. An accomplice standing by the vehicle captures the signal, and the car – thinking the real key is in range – unlocks. The process is then repeated to start the engine.
Signal jamming: A device transmitting on the same radio frequency as the remote key fob is used to jam the signal that locks the car. When a car owner presses the lock button on their key fob, the command is prevented from reaching the vehicle, leaving an open door for any thieves in waiting.
Key programming: Modern cars are required to have a standard diagnostic port fitted. Computer hackers have developed devices that plug into the port, boot up a vehicle's software, and then program a blank key fob. In keyless cars, this is used to start the engine and unlock doors – with the programming process taking as little as 14 seconds.
First things first, it's a good idea to keep the basics of car security in mind with keyless cars: make sure it’s always locked and place keys and fobs far away from doors and windows. Both of these will minimise the chances that a thief can find and amplify the key's signal, plus it's just general good practice in preventing break-ins. Storing your car keys in a metal tin to block its signal will also help.
Be sure to protect your house too; thieves love an easy target. And if they can't relay a signal from your fob, they may try breaking into your house. Don't tempt them; ensure all your doors and windows are closed and locked securely.
It's well worth looking into whether it's possible to switch your key's signal off; it's usually a double button press or a combination of pushes on the key. Either way, be sure to consult your manual to find out if your key has this function, or ask your dealer if the system can be disabled.
Also, see if your fob has a motion sensor. A recent development, motion sensors stop the fob from transmitting a signal if it's left idle for a certain amount of time – rendering any attempts to relay the signal impossible.
Don't forget about aftermarket security devices, either. Things like wheel locks, driveway parking posts and wheel clamps can all be used to prevent thieves from driving away in your motor. They're a great deterrent; many criminals won't bother tampering with such measures, deeming them more trouble than they're worth.
Fitting your car with a tracking device, which you can get from places like Halfords, can monitor unusual activity, send you alerts if your car ends up somewhere it shouldn't be, and allow you to follow it via GPS if it’s stolen.
According to Tracker, vehicles fitted with a device have a recovery rate of 95%. Without such a device, those odds are slashed to 50%, making the option an excellent way of recovering your vehicle should it fall into the wrong hands.
Buying a Faraday pouch to keep your car key in not only ensures it stays in one place, but the pouch's signal-blocking materials prevent your key from transmitting its code, stopping thieves from being able to detect the signal.
Having the latest software installed on your vehicle goes a long way to stopping thieves' attempts in their tracks. Some manufacturers let you download updates from their website and transfer them to your car with a USB storage device, while more recent vehicles can be updated using a SIM card.
It's worth speaking to a dealer to find out about vehicle software updates, and whether the manufacturer plans to release new key fobs strengthened with added security.
Although there's no guarantee that a CCTV camera will prevent your car from being stolen, they're still a handy deterrent that can put off thieves sniffing around your car. And if they do take off with your vehicle, the footage certainly makes it easier to track down both the thief and your prized possession.