New Gizmo Gives Thieves Entry to Keyless Vehicles

November 30, 2017

As carmakers modernize their vehicles by employing more and more technology, cars have been getting safer and more difficult to steal. 

Besides self-driving technology, more cars are being outfitted with a keyless entry and ignition. But as these advances make our lives easier and our cars safer, criminals are adapting so they can continue stealing cars - and now they have a device that can even break into keyless vehicles.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau recently obtained a black-market device that's been catching on among criminals - an apparatus that can give them access to autos with keyless entry, and even start the car in those with a keyless ignition.

After security cameras obtained footage of thieves armed with the device breaking into and stealing vehicles, the NICB investigated and was able to secure one of the devices. It was able to buy a device with assistance from a third-party security expert from an overseas company.

The gizmo was originally developed to help carmakers test their vehicles' keyless entry and ignition systems.

The results of the bureau's tests are eye opening and should be a warning to anybody who has a vehicle outfitted with a keyless system of any type. It also reflects the ceaseless efforts by criminals to continue being able to ply their trade.

The device the NICB obtained is called a "Relay Attack" unit, which it tested on 35 makes and models of cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups.

The results:

• The Relay Attack opened 19 out of 35 vehicles (54%).
• The Relay Attack started 18 of the vehicles (51%).
• The Relay Attack was able to restart 12 of the 18 vehicles it started initially (66%).

The device the NICB used is just one of many apparatuses that thieves have at their disposal, and they vary in the types of cars they are able to open.

But with a hit rate of more than 50% from just one device, it's obvious the threat is very real.

"We've now seen for ourselves that these devices work," NICB president and CEO Joe Wehrle said in a press release. "Maybe they don't work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease."

What you can do
While the new threat is worrying, you should always remember to lock your vehicle - and keep the remote fob with you if you have a keyless entry and ignition.

According to the NICB, there were 57,096 car thefts with keys left in the vehicle in 2015, which was a 22% increase over the previous year. Over the past three years, this kind of theft has grown by 31%.



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