New figures show that hundreds of the UK’s top-selling cars are at risk of theft by criminals who use technology to hack into keyless systems. Four out of five of the UK’s most popular cars are on the list of the models vulnerable to such crimes.
Independent consumer advocate, Which? analysed the results of data from the motoring organisation General German Automobile Club (ADAC), a to show the impact of so-called keyless or ‘relay’ attacks, on the nation’s five best-selling cars.
Vehicle thefts up almost 50%
Lots of new cars now have keyless entry systems. With the touch of your hand, you can open the door, ridding you of the need to fumble for keys inside pockets and bags. If the vehicle also has a keyless start-stop function, you need only press a button to start the engine.
Yet, cheap gadgets available online, enable thieves to fool these systems into allowing them to unlock and steal—or steal from—vehicles in minutes.
The Office for National Statistics figures released last week showed that, between 2017 and 2018, police in England and Wales received around 111,999 reports of vehicle theft—an increase of 48.7% in just five years compared to the 2013-2014 figure of 75,308 stolen vehicles. This equals 300 stolen cars each day—or one every five minutes. In only the five months from April to September 2018, there were reports of almost 60,000 vehicle thefts.
While car theft is much lower than it was in the 1990s, experts say the number of thefts is rising in line with increased use of keyless technology. Another factor may be the government’s cuts to the policing budget, which has meant numerous police forces have had to reduce the number of officers they employ. There has been a 15% reduction of police officers since 2006, with 5,975 officers lost between 2013 to 2018 alone. Police presence hasn’t been this low since the 1980s.
ADAC tested 237 car models with the keyless unlock and start function and found security flaws in 230 of the models. Models from over 30 brands could be unlocked and started by using a relay attack, including BMW, Peugeot, and Volvo, while a further four models could be either unlocked or started.
Which? found the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai, and Ford Focus are all among the cars vulnerable to this kind of theft. Only the Vauxhall Corsa was not susceptible because it is not available with keyless entry or ignition.
Only three keyless cars ADAC tested were impervious to relay attacks because they use technology that can determine the distance from the vehicle with more precision. These cars, all manufactured by Jaguar Land Rover, were the 2018 Jaguar I-Pace; and the latest Discovery and Range Rover models.
‘An ongoing battle’
Which? say criminals have used the relay attack for several years but that the number of keyless thefts has soared because carmakers have done nothing to protect their cars from relay attacks. They claim car manufacturers have “sacrificed the security of scores of modern cars for the sake of convenience”.
Editor of Which? magazine, Harry Rose said:
“With more than one car being stolen every seven minutes, it’s important that people can feel confident in the security of their vehicle.
“The fact that so many cars on the road are susceptible to keyless theft simply isn’t good enough.
“We want manufacturers to up their game when it comes to making their vehicles safe from theft.”
It’s unfortunate that it’s not just the owner who suffers when somebody steals their car. An increase in car theft figures carries the potential for the likelihood of increased premiums for every person paying for car insurance. So, are manufacturers doing enough to protect their customers?
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Chief Executive Mike Hawes, says:
“Industry takes vehicle crime extremely seriously and any claims otherwise are categorically untrue.
“New cars are more secure than ever, and the latest technology has helped bring down theft dramatically with, on average, less than 0.3% of the cars on our roads stolen.
“Criminals will always look for new ways to steal cars; it’s an ongoing battle and why manufacturers continue to invest billions in ever more sophisticated security features—ahead of any regulation.
“However, technology can only do so much and we continue to call for action to stop the open sale of equipment with no legal purpose that helps criminals steal cars.”
Gone in 18 seconds
Car thieves carry out keyless theft by operating as a pair, using two devices; a relay amplifier and a relay transmitter. These devices pick up on the electromagnetic signals transmitted by the keyless fob from inside the driver’s home.
One thief, holding the amplifier, stands close to the building they suspect the keyless fob to be. The amplifier detects the key fob’s signal, amplifies it, and sends it to the transmitter held by the second thief who stands next to the car they plan to steal.
The car detects the signal and unlocks in the same way it would if the key fob were near the car, allowing the criminals to start the car using the push-button ignition. In under one minute, the criminals could drive your car away, all without your key leaving your home. In fact, Which? says theft via relay attacks can take a mere 18 seconds to complete.
To protect yourself from becoming a victim, consider using a Faraday cage to protect your key. Made of layers of metallic material, these work by blocking the signal. You can find various key wallets and containers online. Don’t forget to protect your spare key too. If you want still more protection, consider using a steering lock.
Owners of older Mercedes cars can switch off the keyless signal by double-clicking the lock button on the key and owners of some Mazda and Peugeot models can have the keyless entry system disabled for free by contacting their local dealer.
Have you been a victim of keyless car theft? Is it worth forgoing the security of your car for a small convenience? Tell us in the comments.
There was a police incident close to us last week. A police BMW was used to warn road users, the vehicle using all its lights and the engine running.
I joked with the policeman that the car was at risk of theft, to which he replied that whilst the cars have keyless facility to leave the engine running but needed a key (which he held on his tunic) to move the vehicle.
Why can’t the manufacturers or dealers offer we mere mortals such a facility to help prevent car theft
The device fitted to the police car is a run-lock and is different to what is being talked about in the article. Allows the engine to keep running in order to power the mass of extra electronics in the car, lights, radio, onboard PC etc. Put your foot on the accelerator and the engine stops dead. It works on keyed and keyless cars.
A typical example of using convenience technology over practicality, fueled by the ever increasing laziness of the consumers.
When will we realise that in a lot of cases technology can cause more problems than it solves?
Who kows it may be new tactics to increase buciness by car manufacturers themselves!! they not selling many new cars hence if they get stolen resulting in more business, that may be the reason they make this sort of key less entry and key less driving!!!
The same can be said of banks and contactless cards – wide open to abuse and theft happens on a daily basis. Customers end up paying for the banks losses either directly of by funding ever increasing insurance costs.
If you had a particular model of car stolen in this way, would you buy another replacement vehicle which was the same with your insurance payout…
I doubt it very much, so your view of car manufacturers using this to increase new car sales doesnt really make sense
This is manufacturer driven in a marketing way. If you think about it, how many of the numerous gadgets do you really need to drive a car? I’ve recently changed to an automatic purely for the reason that I find it easier to drive in heavy traffic. The downside is that I’ve lost some of the excitement of a manual gearbox.
What did you used to do before a sat nav became part of the furniture?
More electronics means more problems in the future.
Many things now fitted as standard are just gimmicks because gimmicks seem to sell more cars I have just found a car without gimmicks just electric front windows
What more do we need just to get to shops and work, all the extras are wasted money. I wish they would do car reviews on the the cars with least electronics and gadgets, I have never even used radio/CD in 8 years from new. I vote to bring back the starting handle to overcome flat battery problems.
Been using padlock and chain on all our cars for years, plus now thatchem3 device also on the steering wheel. Motorhome has Padlock and chain plus, Clutch locking device, plus dead locks to front doors and all other openings have Fiamma locking devices. Hard to beat the visual deterrants. Basically making them too hard for the opportunist so they move onto easier targets. that is my answer to car theft. Simple. Rely on yourself to improve any standard system. Again hard to beat visual deterrants.
Do manufacturers think we’re too lazy to turn a key to open a car door now ? It’s pointless technology.
Totally agree. A case of tech looking for a use. Manufacturers should take the responsibility. Sales staff were surprised when I didn’t want keyless as an option on my bottom of the range Skoda Karoq
Maybe we should be given the option to have the lazy technology and perhaps get a discount on insurance if we don’t?
Most people seem to be
Sadly a lot of people are. Just look at how many people leave their TV’s on standby over night. A little bit of energy usage over milllions of devices adds up to a lot of wasted energy.
Put your keys in a biscuit tin over night..
Biscuit tins don’t work. You need something with the conductivity of copper.
Not so. It is easy to create a Faraday cage in which to store your keys in the house. First you need 2 tins which fit inside each other leaving room for insulation between the 2 tin boxes, cardboard is enough as long there is no way that the metal of the inner box can touch the outer box. Done it and I have tested the result. My Peugeot 508 will not open when the keys are in the box even when close to the outside of the car. Result>
Roger your clueless as to what a Faraday Cage is. The clue is in the second word
So you are are a qualifies Radio Engineer I suppose?????
Good conductivity and earthed (grounded).
need to use aluminium air-tight box. Cheapskate is cardboard box and lid both wrapped in aluminium duct tape (Screwfix sell tape). Drop key in this. To test if works put mobile phone in box and call it; if phone does not respond then your box is working …signal cannot get through. Screwfix aluminium duct tape is self-adhesive one side so easy to construct box. Good Luck.
Faraday cages / bags a very cheap to buy, biscuit tin is a no no.
Audi let you turn off auto door entry if the car is keyless.
It’s shameful that manufacturers are not addressing this problem more urgently. And the police have been very slow coming to the debate. My car was broken into electronically on my drive about 9 months ago and the cops who attended said they’d never heard of this problem. I got the real impression they thought I was making it up for an insurance scam! I had to explain to them what it all meant.
The crazy thing is that it all probably adds to the cost of the car. Pay extra to make it easier for your car to be stolen. One reason for my to keep my old “put the key in the door and turn it” car for a few more years….at least until they sort the problem properly. Stealing a car in the described manner, it doesn’t even LOOK as if it is being stolen.
It also adds to the cost of maintaining it, especially as it gets older.
We had our car broken into like this before Christmas they didn’t steal the car only took a few small items out of it. We now keep our keys in a metal box.
a single metal box will not do, try it by taking the box with keys to the car. In most cases the door will open. A Faraday cage is required
What happened to the trading standards mantra “not fit for purpose”. The car manufacturers must do more and having the option to opt out of keyless entry and/or startup must make it more difficult because the thieves won’t know which option you went for. I think there may be a market for attractive wall mounted lead key boxes for the hallway.
My wife and I don’t have this problem – our cars are 20 and 11 years old. They may not be fantastically secure but they get us from A to B and aren’t that attractive to thieves. (touch wood – I’ve tempted fate now!) The last time a car of mine was broken into they stole the cassette radio!
It was obvious years ago there was a major security flaw but it hasn’t stopped people buying these cars so they can show off their wealth.
My next car will be older, once I have finished the restoration and recommissioning. I guess I’ll just have to accept I won’t be able to go to any dystopian cities.
“so they can show off their wealth.” – Hardly needed any wealth to buy my recent 2nd hand Focus with this technology, unless you can tell me where it’s hidden. A bit of lazy generalisation don’t you think?
So to have the convenience of not ‘fumbling in your pocket for keys’ you must fit a steering lock (where is the key for this) and keep your keyfobs in some sort of ‘cage’ every minute that you’re not actually in the car (presumably theives could point their amplifier at you when you pop into a shop knowing that the fob is in your pocket)? All this plus an increased chance of having your home broken into? I’ll continue to ‘fumble’ thank you very much.
Put your key fob inside a foil lined bag eg. potato crisp packet when inside the house, it blocks the signal, better still, put your car in the garage. If you want to test, take the bag with key inside to your car and see if it opens.
Keep the key in the crisp bag with you when shopping etc. ..
Not very good for the environment though as those foil lined crisp bags don’t bio -degrade for hundreds of years
Just like contactless cards, smart-a**e tech beats security
Nice touch, to illustrate the problem of keyless theft with a photo of a car with the rear quarterlight blagged in.
My last theft was a radio (value £60) which cost me a window (£240). The Law later informed me they had caught the guy and charged him with 15 offences. At which point he confessed to about 80 more, which got his sentenced REDUCED for saving police time. So he got a negative sentence for doing over my car. Some disincentive!
Mind you, these days, he would get a fine payable at £1 a week, and you would never hear anything from the Law anyway.
“manufacturers continue to invest billions in ever more sophisticated security features” ?? I don’t believe this. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to fix this keyless problem.
How about a switch on the key fob to turn it off when needed ?
I have a new invention.
A strip of metal has notches cut in it. It is inserted into a slot in the car, and if the.notches match it starts. If not it doesn’t.
My invention (I call it a “key” ) costs about £2 to replace, against £250 for a typical modern fob.
And the cherry on top is you can go swimming with it in your pocket without wrecking it.
Funnily enough, this is the technology we had in the 80’s and 90’s and as the article states, car theft was high then too…and we used steering wheel devices, gear stick/handbrake locks and pedal locks too (which did nothing if they really wanted your car).
We need to move forward, not backwards!
If the y REALLY want your car they’ll pick it up with a crane and lift it onto the back of a truck.
No locking system can prevent that.
Well done, Bill! Nobody manufactures common sense any more. And I can even unfreeze my lock in cold weather using meths or whatever. I call my invention ‘deicer’. Then I can use your invention. Job done. As someone else has said, why have to fiddle finding the ‘key’ for the ‘steering wheel lock’ – another useful forgotten invention.
Put your keys in a Faraday signal blocker Pouch, available online for about £8 for 2 pouches. I put my keys in a pouch
& I could not unlock my car the signal was blocked.
I bought 2 faraday cage pouches for £5 after my car had been open (it wasn’t broken into, nothing was broken just opened!) I had absolutely no idea that cars could be opened like this. why on earth don’t the manufacturers give faraday cage pouches with the keys rather than fobs, sure they could buy them for less than I did.
Whilst I was waiting for the pouches to arrive my neighbour suggested I kept the keys in my microwave (when it wasn’t in use!!)
I bought a steering lock years ago and was the butt of lots of joke for doing so. With my background in electronics and computers I knew where the last laugh would be.
I have just recently resurrected mine. Trouble is I often forget to use it. But like seatbelts I will soon remember every time. Keep smiling Berny!
This quote “The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Chief Executive Mike Hawes, says:
“Industry takes vehicle crime extremely seriously and any claims “otherwise are categorically untrue.”. Has he been taking lessons from Donald Trump, with disbelieving facts as untrue. As the make the industry look bad.
I’ve been using one of the pouches for about a year now as car theft around my area is high. So far so good and have got into the habit of putting it in there every time I come into the house. Cheaper than trying to replace the car
There should be an easy system to remove the keyless function
We have had many keyless break-ins in our road over 6 months mostly stealing items and cash from cars and one BMW stolen.
The police can’t do anything about it ‘at the time’ unless they are standing there as the act can be done so quickly, and they seem very reluctant/unable to do anything afterwards.
I took the matter up with SEAT (VAG, WV, Skoda, Audi, SEAT) and the SMMT.
SEAT insisted that customers asked for Keyless entry/start. Oh, did they?!
They said they spend millions of £’s ‘updating/fixing the software and that I should fit a Crook-lock on my steering wheel.
SMMT also said the matter IS taken seriously and that millions of £’s are being spent on a solution – oh, and advised me to fit a Crook-lock on my steering wheel.
You’ve gotta laugh?
Fortunately my SEAT has the older push button key fob to unlock/lock the car and a ‘key’ to put in the steering column to start the engine.
Is that so difficult?
New Skodas have the option to disable keyless entry by lightly touching the driver’s door handle within 10 seconds of locking the car. The only problem is you have to disable it every time you lock the car. Better than nothing though. However, I do really hate keyless starting.
What’s the picture of a broken window got to do with this article.? This article is all about the need not to break any windows.
Insurance premiums should only go up for keyless cars
So why are car manufacturers not supplying rf blockers when they sell a new car, a car costing many thousands of pounds can be protected by a £10 blocker!
I agree this would be a help but I think the manufacturers would regard this as an admission of the weakness of the technology.
Stolen car, possibly exported or trashed = more car sales. Simples.
We protect our car fob by storing it in a stainless steel basin
I managed to stop two scumbags nicking our car, they’d already got inside it before I chased them off.
We were completely unaware that it could be entered so easily.
No one at Mitsubishi informed us of the vulnerability, nowhere in the manual does it state that your keys should be protected and when contacting Mitsubishi to get the damn keyless entry disabled (which wasn’t an optional extra, incidentally!) they told us it simply wasn’t possible and instead sent us a link to Amazon to go buy a Faraday key pouch!
Shamelessly lazy incompetence from the car manufacturers, I simply would never buy another car featuring this ridiculous technology.
I was lucky and got the wake up call; sadly there are unwitting individuals going to bed tonight who will be waking up scratching their heads tomorrow morning wondering where their car has gone.
I have a Triumph motorcycle with keyless ignition, & the key fob has a button to enable/disable the signal. Surely this should be the industry wide standard for all such vehicles.
The best solution of all is what in California is called a “bait car” .
A desirable vehicle is fitted with radio control, and parked in a high risk area. A police car,, which has the controller, parks nearby.
When the bait car is taken the police use the radio control to close the windows, lock the doors and stop the car. Then they arrest the thieves at their leisure.
My old motorhome had a battery isolator – a simple switch which cost pennies. When the switch was open the electrici all system was dead.
An electrician would have found the problem in 20 minutes – but most car thieves are not electrician s
…….you hav`nt mentioned my Honda Jazz……
Surely it’s not difficult, even on a modern car with crowded engine bay, for a competent electrician to wire in a cut-out switch, hidden somewhere in the cabin, that interrupts the ignition. That’s what I used to do with our cars years ago. At least that would stop them driving away. Otherwise a Faraday wallet seems to work but it does go against the ‘convenience’ factor that led the manufacturers down the keyless route in the first place.
Better still if you have two of them. The thief finds one, then is puzzled why it still won’t start. So he moves on to another vehicle.
For this to work well it should be done in such a way that the ignition and oil pressure lights come on.
Keyless is an unnecessary gadget. My car still has a key fob that you have to press, so why should I pay for an increase of thefts of cars with this stupid add on.
All manufacturers should offer a key option. Then they would see how many people want it.
I also have a proper hand brake, unlike many more modern cars. Get rid of the marketing men, thay add cost not value!
I like my keyless entry and keyless start, and before you start saying been lazy etc think about the disabled, I have only got my left hand working, try putting the key in on the right hand side, another good one is auto lights and wipes, in the old days I had to leave the shopping bag etc on the ground (sometimes in the rain) just to open the door and when it started to get dark I had to pull over to switch my lights on (Vauxhall).
So technology is a good thing to me.
Get a Faraday pouch off ebay and the ScorpionTrack Driver tracking and immobilisation (optional) system from Scorpion Auto. Great for stopping keyless theft especially if you drive a lot and work away so can’t rely on home based security like locking posts etc. The system automatically arms and disarms by reading a fob attached to my car keys. It works independent from the manufacturer’s own security systems that are totally useless, well known to thieves and therefore regularly prone to attack – just watch the 100s of CCTV vids on YouTube. Got mine fitted to my Range Rover Sport and my Fireblade and as it meets the insurers new S5 Thatcham approvals I’ll recover the cost of the installs in premium saving. No brainer! Can also check up on both my car and bike in the same mobile app .