Protecting keyless cars from theft

As the motor industry advances in more sophisticated and technological ways, so do the methods used by thieves to steal vehicles, in particular, through keyless entry systems.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the number of vehicles reported stolen had increased by 26% between December 2021 and December 2022. Keyless entry is now the most common way for thieves to break into vehicles, accounting for more than a third of break-ins.

Many of today’s most popular cars use keyless entry systems – enabling owners to unlock and start vehicles with minimum effort, via a simple fob using short-wave radio technology. However, this technology not only benefits vehicle owners, but gives rise to theft.

High-end and newer vehicles tend to use this technology and, due to their high resale value, are a magnet for criminals. Their security can often depend on the model and some more advanced models have systems designed to thwart keyless car theft.

Hi-tech theft

Using a technique called ‘relay theft’, criminals do not need to steal a key or break into a property. Instead, they can use a cable loop near doors and windows of houses to find the keyless fob’s signal and trick the car into thinking you’re standing beside it with the key in your pocket.

Once the criminals gain access, they can tap into the car’s diagnostic system, create a new code to send to a blank fob, then drive away with the stolen vehicle. The entire process can take less than two minutes.

Ten tips to avoid keyless car theft

Whilst the methods used in vehicle theft are constantly evolving, there are certain measures which motorists can take to minimise their risks of being a victim to theft.

  • Install an immobiliser with automatic driver recognition (ADR), sophisticated models such as Ghost and No-Go incorporate technology that prevents relay attacks from occurring.
  • Coupling a passive ADR immobiliser with a pro-active S5 tracking device gives greater prospects of recovery. Ensuring that subscriptions are maintained is of paramount importance, as once they lapse, the vehicle will no longer be tracked.
  • Keeping ADR fobs away from vehicle keys, and certainly not left in the vehicle, ensures that in the event keys are stolen the protection installed on the vehicle still operates.
  • It’s true that keyless cars are no longer the rare commodity they once were, but not all cars have the feature as many new models have keyless entry listed as an additional extra.
    If you contact the car manufacturer, you can also find out if their keyless fob can be switched off overnight or disabled completely.
  • Check for any software updates which could make the fob more secure.
  • Store the key fob as far away from the front door and windows as possible.
  • Keeping the fob in certain containers can block the signal. Metal cases and signal-blocking pouches, often called faraday bags, can shield the fob’s radio signals from thieves.
    To check that it works, put the key in the bag when you’re standing beside the locked car. The doors should stay locked.
  • Invest in additional physical in-car security, such as a steering wheel lock to deter criminals.
  • Consider where you park your car at night. If it’s often parked in an open or public space, CCTV can help give you peace of mind.
  • Double check that the doors are locked when using the remote-locking button on the key, as thieves can block the signal from your remote.

NB: Cars that can be accessed by pressing a button on a fob are classed as a standard remote fob rather than keyless, and are not considered to be vulnerable to relay attacks.

We are here to help

If you are concerned about how this affects you and your business and would like support in assessing your needs, we are here to help. Please do get in touch for confidential advice and guidance.

This article was adapted from an article by Zurich which can be found here.