Gone in 10 seconds?

posted in: Technology, Top Tips

As WhatCar? puts the keyless entry systems in seven new vehicles to the test, we ask how thieves can exploit keyless entry systems, and what you can do to stop it.

Keyless Car Entry System

If you have a DS3 Crossback Puretech 155 Ultra Prestige or a Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE, you may want to look away now.

According to WhatCar? those were the vehicles that could have their keyless entry systems exploited in the shortest times, allowing the vehicle to be stolen. The DS3 was gone in 10 seconds. The Land Rover in 40, not ideal for a car costing north of £35,000. Other vehicles in the test, including the BMW X3, the Audi TT RS, a Mercedes A-Class and a Ford Fiesta, were less ‘stealable’ but still had flaws in their security, and hundreds more could be at risk.

How keyless systems can be fooled

Keyless vehicles (that is, a vehicle which you can access with the key still in your pocket) operate using fobs which emit a short range radio signal. When you stand next to your car, the vehicle picks up the signal, enabling you to unlock it and start the engine.

But with a little ingenuity and a simple amplification device, thieves can fool the car or van into thinking you’re stood close by. One thief stands near to your home with the amplifier, which can then detect the signal from the key fob sat on the hall stand or in your pocket or bag. A second thief then uses another device held close to the car to receive the signal and unlock the car.

It’s a process you can see in action here, as two thieves use the hack to steal a £90,000 Tesla.

How to protect your keyless entry system

Keyless entry is commonplace across the motor industry. Many of our rental cars and vans use keyless systems and some vehicles no longer have a non-keyless option. So how can you prevent thieves stealing your vehicle?

  1. Maximise distance: The thieves’ amplifiers have a limited range, so the further away from the thief you can place your keys, the more likely it is that you’ll be safe. That distance can be significant, however. We’ve read reports of people living in third floor flats who’ve had their cars stolen this way.
  2. Add extra security: Remember the wheel locks we all used in the 90s? A visible, physical lock is likely to prove sufficient to deter all but the most committed thieves from having a go at your car, even if they can unlock it.
  3. Buy a Faraday pouch/box: These natty little pouches and boxes are lined with metal which blocks the signal from the key reaching any amplification device. You can find them online starting from little more than £5 although some work better than others.
  4. Take advantage of the latest tech: As you might expect, motoring companies are fighting back with a range of additions that, for now at least, prevent the thieves’ amplifiers from doing their jobs. Some fobs can be double pressed to deadlock the car and switch of the key’s signal. Other won’t unlock the car unless motion is detected – which it won’t if the fob is sat in your bag.

We’re always looking at ensuring our rental vehicles remain safe and secure, and as technology improves we’ll ensure we adopt it, to cut the risk of keyless entry.

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