It’s natural for us to think that with advancing technology comes greater protection. While this is often the case, it doesn’t mean that we can forget the basics of protecting our possessions, as the recent internet ‘ransomware’ attacks have served to remind us of this.
The same goes for your car, and while you might feel much more secure in 2017 with keyless entry technology and modern sophisticated software compared to using a normal regular key a couple of decades ago, it’s not quite as cut and dried as you might think.
We’re not talking about the obvious signs of a broken window and suspicious characters hanging around before hot-wiring your beloved automobile, in fact, it would be hard to spot anything out of the ordinary with this new stance on one of the most lucrative of crimes… When anything is made more secure, criminals will employ similar sophisticated tactics to try to outwit the good guys – it’s an on-going battle.
So how does a car get stolen without actually being broken into? CCTV footage exists of car thieves simply getting into cars and driving them off as if they had the original remote keys to the car and were the owners. Of course, once a criminal has the technology to get inside the car, it’s often as simple as just pressing the start button and driving the vehicle away. So how do they do it? It baffled the experts for a while, but now at least some of these crimes have been explained.
If you leave your car on the driveway, which is more often than not very close to your house, and then place your keys in the hallway like most of us do, then you have effectively opened up a potential opportunity for a well-planned car thief. All the thief will then need to do is bridge the gap that is built into the keyless entry technology. Tech that makes sure that you can only access your car within a very small proximity range – hence you need your keys to be on your person.
So to bridge the gap, the savvy car thief will need to have access to a ‘booster’ – a sophisticated device that will amplify the signal that your key fob is giving off. This enables them to fool the car into thinking that the key is within the desired range. It’s as simple as that with the right equipment.
Yet this is just one method that thieves will employ to steal your car. If you use a far more common button press remote key, you could have your car stolen from the street or a car park when out shopping – even though you might be utterly convinced that you did indeed lock the car. If this happens, you may have become the victim of a simpler device used by car thieves – the signal jammer. This will effectively block the signal from your remote to the car, so while you believe that you have done everything right in locking your car, the remote signal has in fact not connected to the car and you have walked away from it leaving it unlocked.
The thief still has to start the car once inside of course, and this brings us to the next potential flaw in your car’s security – the on-board engine diagnostics port: using a laptop plugged into the diagnostics port, the criminal can potentially programme a blank key alarmingly fast.
The problem is that the way the law is set up, there appears to be a bit of a loophole. As selling such information and technology appears to not be illegal itself; it’s the use of such equipment that designates that a crime has been committed. Indeed, the software technology has to exist to allow car dealers and mechanics to be able to access engine diagnostics for legitimate reasons. The SMMT have now called for a tightening of restrictions as to where and who can have access to such equipment – items which ‘have no legal purpose’ outside of official outlets.
All is not lost to the criminals though; as there are some simple and inexpensive things we can do to foil (if you will excuse the pun) the use of signal amplifiers. You can readily purchase a small pouch that will effectively block radio signals so the signal amplifier will not work. Or you can just use a (closed) tin lined with foil to drop your keys in overnight for a similar effect.
Some manufacturers have now also added a software lockdown that will activate when the car alarm is sounding, this will make it impossible to access diagnostics. Or you can even buy a manual immobiliser for the port yourself.
One of the simplest ways to stop your key being used without you knowing is to deactivate it – some manufacturers, Mercedes for example, have this built into their more recent keys, so 2 clicks will ‘disable’ the key so that there is no radio signal being emitted at all.
Of course, a simple steering wheel or gear stick lock is still a good deterrent and might make even the most sophisticated criminal move onto another vehicle.
All in all, car crime is down. Over the past 15 years the number of cars stolen has dropped by approximately two thirds (to around 90,000 in 2016). So maybe if we all employ a little more thought to stopping car crime we can reduce that figure some more.