Honest John’s guide to keeping your keyless car safe from thieves
The theft of cars – usually high-end ones – equipped with keyless entry technology appears to continuing unabated. The recent news that 10 suspected car thieves were detained on suspicion of stealing £1.5 million worth of luxury Range Rovers has reignited the debate about the “keyless” systems employed on the latest cars – and car security in general.
The cars were stolen using what it’s known as a “relay attack”, in which criminals use scanners to intercept and copy the unique security signal from the car owner’s keyfob.
That signal is cloned and the thieves then employ a transmitter to send it to the car; its security system naturally interprets this as the keyfob being present, so the doors are unlocked and the engine primed for starting.
That is because car “smart” keys constantly transmit a shortwave signal to a receiver in the car; if a thief uses a receiver/transmitter to pick the signal up within its range, the car’s receiver will think he has the key and allow him to enter and drive the car away.
It is remarkably easy. The equipment is readily available on the internet.
How you can avoid becoming a victim
Check the range of your key by seeing how far from your car the fob will open it. That’s not the standard door unlocking range, however. You need to stand away from the car with the untouched smart key in your hand while an assistant tests whether the door will passively open.
To prevent signals from smart keys being “relayed” in this way you need to keep the key in a Faraday cage that blocks the signal. The most effective Faraday cage in the average house is a microwave oven (obviously switch it off at the mains before you store your keys in it).
Alternatively, you can buy a dedicated Faraday key signal blocking box on the internet for £12-£20. Similarly, you can also use a Faraday Pouch to keep the key inside when you are in public areas where the key signal could be cloned by a nefarious passer-by. (These also protect your credit and debit cards when you are in public).
It’s also worth noting that you should never leave your car keys near the front door, where the code is at risk of being copied by even the most basic of scanners.
This also deters the less technologically adept criminals from physically grabbing the keyfob using a hook and then driving off in your car.
For ultimate protection from casual theft of a car, in addition to the car’s standard security features I recommend a more traditional approach; get a Disklok steel locking steering wheel cover (disklok.co.uk) or similar. They cost £110-£135.
These can be a bit cumbersome but they are certainly effective, acting as a visual deterrent as well as a physical one.