How thieves are using vehicles' technology to steal our cars
Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30
Some cars using keyless technology, including BMWs and Range Rovers, can be unlocked and started by a simple radio hack, according to new research from Europe's largest car-owners' club.
Over 20 different models are affected by the hack, which Germany's ADAC says has already been used to steal vehicles across Europe.
The hack involves tricking the car's radio equipment into thinking the owner is nearby.
The keyless technology "facilitates thieves immensely", ADAC warns.
"Our experts have tested over 20 models and found that cars equipped with keyless entry are significantly more prone to theft than vehicles with normal remote keys," the club says.
Researchers at ADAC do not want to publish full details of the homemade radios they used to conduct the testing as it would be too easy to replicate.
The hack is known as the "amplifier attack" and is completed using two radios, one of which must be near the car with another near the key.
Keyless entry works so that once the owner comes near the car the key sends a signal to the car to open it.
Hackers can now amplify the signal sent from the keys by up to 300 feet so they can now enter the car without the owner being nearby.
This means keys that are left out in hallways or near doors or windows can now be amplified without the thief having to actually enter the building.
ADAC says car owners with keyless technology should "exercise increased vigilance" in the storage of the key.
"Automakers have a duty and affected vehicles should also have appropriate action taken on them with retrofits installed," ADAC argues.
The car club says thieves usually take vehicles when their owners are abroad and also says the vehicles can be refuelled whilst turned on.
This means they won't need the key again once they've gotten away.
The list of vehicles varies immensely, with high-end cars like the BMW 7-series and the Range Rover Evoque affected.
Cheaper vehicles like the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Toyota RAV4 are also at risk.
The only car that resisted the researchers tests was the BMW i3. While they were unable to open the electric car, thieves were able to start its engine.
Hacking cars with keyless entry has been an emerging trend in the US and Canada. Growing incidents in Toronto spurred its police department to issue a warning last year about devices that could compromise the security of these cars.
There is still no known straightforward fix for the hack. One 'New York Times' journalist resorted to storing his keys in the freezer, which supposedly blocks the radio signals.
This type of hack has been around for some time with Swiss-based researchers showing a similar system in 2011.
However, ADAC claims that its hack costs just £160 (€202) to manufacture, much cheaper than the thousands required to build the Swiss model.
The German club is calling on manufacturers to issue a fix for the hack, which potentially leaves thousands of vehicles vulnerable to theft. ADAC also expects more vehicles it hasn't tested to be vulnerable.
While a Garda spokesperson was unavailable for comment on the use of the hack in Ireland, the force has warned of an increase in high-end vehicles being taken in recent times.
Keyless entry has been widely accepted in Europe with 95pc of brands using the technology in their newer cars.