Keyless Car Thefts: The Latest Solution
By Hughie Murdock
Jun 01, 2019
It is more than two years since we wrote on the subject of keyless car theft, warning of the various methods being used by thieves to gain access to vehicles, such as signal relaying, key programming and signal jamming. We discussed various methods of combating these issues. But now, two years on, could there be a new solution to signal relaying?
Why are keyless vehicles at risk of theft?
The keyless system uses a simple process involving a fob that emits a short range radio signal. When the vehicle is within range, usually a few metres, the car recognises the signal and unlocks the doors. The same process is used to fire the ignition on cars with start buttons.
Signal relay thefts involve wireless transmitters being held up to a window or the front door of the house, or the pocket or bag of the vehicle owner. The transmitters capture the signal from the fob and relay it to a target vehicle. An accomplice standing near the vehicle captures the signal, fooling the car into unlocking. The process is then repeated to start the engine.
Up until now, the only way to prevent relay theft has been to keep car keys out of sight and out of range of the car. The advice is to store them in an aluminium tin or signal blocking box at home and, whilst out and about, carry the fob in a tin or shielded wallet such as a Faraday pouch.
Now though, leading car manufacturer Ford has announced the launch of a key fob that it claims makes its cars resistant to relay thefts.
New fob technology
The upgraded fob, already supplied with the new Fiesta supermini, features what Ford calls a ‘sleep mode’. This triggers if the motion sensor doesn’t detect movement for more than 40 seconds, making it impossible to access the vehicle. The device reverts to normal operation as soon as it senses movement, for example when the fob is picked up on leaving the house.
Ford says it will be rolling the new fobs out across its entire range by 2021, with all Focus models built after May 2019 being delivered with the new key. Current Fiesta or Focus owners are also being offered replacement fobs featuring the new technology, although at a cost. Programming and testing takes just under an hour.
The introduction of Ford’s new relay theft resistant fob follows a reported 49 per cent increase in car thefts in the UK over the last five years, a figure that is attributed to the rise in the use of keyless technology.
How else to prevent keyless car theft?
If your keyless fob is yet to feature the latest anti-theft technology, aside from keeping it out of sight and stored in a tin or shielded wallet, there are various security measures you can take to protect your vehicle.
Secure your property
Thieves who fail to relay a signal from a fob may try to gain access to a property instead to take the keys. Ensure you don’t make it easy for them by properly locking doors and windows, especially at night.
CCTV acts as a deterrent to potential thieves, as well as providing critical evidence to help police with their investigations should a theft occur, so if you don’t already have it, consider installing it. Security lighting that works on a sensor is also a wise investment, highlighting opportunistic thieves as they attempt to gain access. Finally, an intruder alarm will alert you or a monitoring centre to any break-in attempt.
Fit a steering wheel lock
Steering wheel locks make it almost impossible for a thief to drive away. At very least they can considerably delay a theft, making them a strong deterrent.
Fit a tracker
For high value, coveted vehicles, a tracker is vital. Any unusual activity is monitored and an alert is sent if it appears the car isn’t where it should be. Stolen vehicles can be followed using GPS.
Install software updates
Software updates are essential if you are going to keep your connected car secure and protected from the latest threats. Updates can be downloaded onto a USB device and transferred to the vehicle, whilst some models can be updated via Wi-Fi.
Switch the fob off at night
Certain key fobs can be switched off. If yours can, be sure to make a habit of doing so at night.