Thieves can “steal keyless cars in ten seconds”

Investigation finds some models with keyless entry are vulnerable to criminals

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Some of Britain’s most popular cars are vulnerable to being driven away by criminals within seconds of a theft attempt beginning.

It has been reported for a while that many cars with keyless entry are vulnerable to what is called a ‘relay attack‘, where one thief uses an inexpensive electronic device to capture the signal from a car key and transfer it to another thief with another relay device near the car. This tricks the vehicle into thinking the key is nearby and allows the thief near the car to unlock and potentially start it.

Keyless entry relay theft | The Car Expert

New DS 3 Crossback can be stolen in just 10 seconds, Discovery Sport in 30 seconds

In a new investigation by What Car? magazine, it took just five seconds to enter the all-new DS 3 Crossback Ultra Prestige and another five to drive away, meaning a total time of only ten seconds. Meanwhile, researchers were able to access a Land Rover Discovery within 20 seconds but could not drive it off, though a Land Rover Discovery Sport was driven away within 30 seconds.

Earlier this year, consumer group Which? reported on a test from Germany where 237 different cars with keyless entry/keyless start systems were challenged in relay attacks, and found that all but three of them were vulnerable to being unlocked or stolen.

According to the Which? data, four of the five best-selling cars in the UK are vulnerable to relay theft. The Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Focus have been branded the most vulnerable, whereas the Vauxhall Corsa, the country’s third best-seller, was rated low risk due to it still using a physical key to start the car.

How do you combat keyless relay attack thefts?

Some manufacturers have updated their keyless entry systems to deactivate the signal when no motion is detected, such as when a key is put aside indoors.

In the What Car? test, the Audi TT RS Roadster, BMW X3, Ford Fiesta and Mercedes-Benz A-Class were all inaccessible once the key’s signal was disabled, though all could be driven away while the signal was active.

What Car? says Jaguar Land Rover is taking a different approach, using ultra-wide-band radio technology on its latest models, which uses a wide range of frequencies that criminals can’t latch onto. However, this clearly doesn’t yet apply to the Discovery Sport.

You can now buy ‘Faraday pouches’ for your car keys, which are supposed to shield any outgoing signals. However, results have been inconclusive – especially on cheap pouches sold on sites like Amazon.

Some manufacturers have even suggested that customers worried about relay attacks should go to their local dealership to have the keyless system deactivated – which must be galling if you’ve paid extra money to have keyless entry as an optional extra…

Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car?, said: “It is outrageous that some car makers have introduced keyless entry and start systems without making them anywhere near as secure as the traditional alternatives they’ve replaced.

“It is great news that a small number of brands are taking the problem of car theft seriously, but more needs to be done to improve security, particularly of desirable used models.”

The number of car thefts in England and Wales is at an eight-year high, with more than 106,000 vehicles stolen in 2018.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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