09 August, 2019

UK test highlights theft issues with keyless entry

Some of the UK’s newest vehicles could be at risk of theft in a matter of seconds, according to What Car? magazine.

An exclusive test conducted by the publication found the new DS3 Crossback Ultra Prestige could be unlocked and started in 10 seconds by thieves using specialist technology. The Audi TT RS could also be stolen in 10 seconds, but only if certain options were activated.

Increasing target

Car theft rates in England and Wales have reached an eight-year high, with more than 106,000 stolen last year alone. Vehicles fitted with keyless entry and start systems are being targeted by thieves. Criminals using specialist tools can capture a key’s signal and relay it to another device next to the car, allowing them to enter and start the vehicle.

What Car? tested seven different models, all fitted with keyless entry and start technology. Its security experts were able to break into a number of them within a matter of seconds.

Some new models on sale today feature technology that helps prevent keyless theft. Manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz, have introduced motion detection technology inside their car keys – if the key is left untouched, it stops emitting a signal. However, if the key is in a pocket or handbag, and the owner is walking around, the car can still be vulnerable.

Ongoing development

Jaguar Land Rover has taken a different approach, introducing ultra-wide-band radio technology on some of its latest models, which transmits a wide range of signals from the key, meaning thieves can’t lock onto the signal and fool the vehicle.

What Car?’s security experts couldn’t steal any vehicle with their keyfobs deactivated. However, this technology is not yet widely available.

Responding to the tests, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: 'Vehicle manufacturers are continually investing and developing new security features – including motion sensing key fobs and other technologies - to try and stay one step ahead of criminals, which is an ongoing and extremely costly battle.

‘There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and brands will have their own individual strategies to combat vehicle theft with lead-times to engineer, test and source new countermeasures varying across the industry. Ultimately, however, technology can only do so much, and this is why the industry continues to call for action to prevent the open sale of devices used by criminals to steal cars.'