NEW cars may have all the mod cons but how secure are they?

Some motorists investing in cars with all the state-of-the-art technology are waking up to the reality that their vehicles may no longer be on the driveway outside their homes where they parked them - and that’s down to the sophisticated methods of entry thieves are using to steal vehicles.

The Press Association reported that thefts involving keyless entry systems are to blame for a jump in reported vehicle crimes. The technique involves amplifying the radio signal of a key fob inside a house and relaying it to a receiver near the car.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show a significant increase in vehicle theft, up by 40% over the previous year.

Thatcham Research advises car owners to make sure they “understand the digital functions” of their vehicles, and check to see if software updates and newer fobs with enhanced security are available.

The research centre also recommends storing keys as far as possible from entry points and using shielding devices to block the signal from the key itself.

Steve Launchbury, lead security research engineer for Thatcham, explains incidents emerged in Germany where cars had been taken without any evidence of forced entry, such as broken glass, which alerted authorities to the security issue.

Gradually, similar incidents started to occur in the UK with CCTV capturing the so-called Relay Attack in action and, since then, they have been working closely with car manufacturers on security improvements such as upgrading software.

Other measures carmakers are introducing include keys which have the ability to go to sleep, limiting the risk of signals being compromised between the vehicle and the key.

Steve says they are also looking at how the Bluetooth system could play a part in improving vehicle security which is imperative as more cars become ‘digitally connected.’

Initially keyless entry tended to be a feature on top end cars, but Steve says such ‘plug and play’ systems are becoming more mainstream and they have to ensure any security issues are ironed out.

“Modes of theft have shifted over the years from brute force to digital compromise and this is a relatively new challenge for carmakers,” says Steve.

“We have been working closely with manufacturers for the past 20 years, from the early 90s when vehicle crime peaked at 620,000 thefts in just one year. As a result, cars are more secure today than they ever have been. However, as the new theft trends emerge, new measures must be put in place to prevent them.

“We are demonstrating to manufacturers how criminals with the right digital kit can navigate the layers of physical security which have been introduced over the years,” says Steve.

His message to drivers with keyless entry systems is to check if the key can be switched off at night. Drivers should also speak to their dealer about potential software updates and whether new key fobs with added security are available. It is also possible to buy Faraday pouches which shield the key fob and prevent signals being transmitted – but test and ensure that they work for yourself.

General security awareness is important too, says Steve. Drivers should ensure their vehicles are locked and secure and warns against complacency when walking away from the vehicle - as criminals can also use jammers to prevent the signal from a standard key fob reaching the car, leaving the doors unlocked and any alarm disarmed.

And, if in doubt, introduce additional security devices such as steering wheel locks as they are another deterrent to thieves who are on the look-out for the easiest target.

“It’s about making life as hard as possible for the criminals. Vehicle security is built on layers and the more layers, clearly the lower the risk of theft,” says Steve.

Sarah Cordey from the ABI (Association of British Insurers) says they are certainly aware of the trend of keyless entry thefts and car thefts have seen an increase.

She emphasizes the importance of reporting all car crimes as the police can see whether or not there is a specific pattern or spate in a certain location and especially when gadgets have been used to bypass the keyless security.

“It is important the police are able to build a picture of what is going on,” says Sarah.

She also advises people to park cars in a well lit area; keep it close to home and to be aware of any suspicious behaviour.