Hi-tech thieves use radio trick to unlock and start your car

More concerns over 'keyless' ignition systems

CRIMINALS are stealing cars with “keyless” entry systems by holding radio transmitters close to the walls of the owner’s home to amplify the signal from key fobs kept indoors.

Footage showing an apparent attack has been made public by Paige Foster, 23, an estate agent, who found one morning last week that her and her partner’s five-month-old Mercedes had vanished from outside their front door in Grays, Essex.

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Their CCTV system had recorded two men walking onto their driveway. In the video, one hooded figure walks to the driver’s side of the £35,000 car while another holds a satchel believed to contain a transmitter up to the side wall of the house. The first thief then opens the car door and drives off while his accomplice walks away. The key fob remained in the couple’s kitchen throughout.

Mercedes said it was unaware of any problems with its locking systems, but experts said the attack appeared to be of a type known in continental Europe for several years. Last year security researchers in Munich showed they could break into 24 car models, including BMWs, Toyotas and Audis, using a pair of radio devices. Their technique closely resembled the Essex theft.

How thieves steal cars without using the keys

The attack is carried out with cheap, off-the-shelf equipment: one transmitter contacts the car’s entry system and passes on the car’s response signal; the other offers the signal to the key, which responds with a coded signal to open and start the car. The key’s instructions are sent back to the car via the two transmitters.

Deputy Chief Constable Matt Jukes, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “Vehicle theft has reduced by more than 70% over the past 15 years. We have seen some specific trends emerging over recent years, such as keyless car theft. The national vehicle crime intelligence service has been working to build a picture of how criminals are exploiting new technology.”

Mercedes said: “All our vehicles have extensive security and anti-theft protection systems. We also offer our customers the option of deactivating the radio signal with two clicks of the key in order to prevent abuse.”

This article first appeared in The Times


Gone in 90 seconds: how thieves hack into and steal keyless-entry cars