February 17, 2018

Thieves Target Latest Models With ‘Relay Attacks’

Certain Cars Susceptible To New Style Of Car Theft

Criminals are targeting certain types of keyless entry cars in a new form of vehicle theft called a ‘relay attack’ which uses a transmitter relay device and two criminals working together.

One thief stands near the car being targeted and the other stands near the front door of the owner’s home to get in range of ‘keyless’ key fobs, which are often left on hallway tables or kitchen worktops.

The relay device then picks up the key fob signal from inside the house and relays it to the car. Using this method, thieves are then able to drive away in a stolen vehicle in a matter of just a few seconds.

CCTV footage shows thieves at work

West Midlands Police has recently released CCTV footage showing thieves using a relay device to steal a Mercedes, which has never been recovered.


West Midlands Police believe it is the first time the high-tech crime has been caught on camera and the theft took just one minute to make off with the vehicle.

Relay boxes used in this way can receive signals from the key fob through walls, doors and windows but not metal.

The relay boxes themselves are readily available on the internet for as little as £80 and thefts typically occur in residential areas, where cars are parked relatively close to the house, especially at night.

Which models are vulnerable?

Research in Germany, which tested vehicles from 30 manufacturers, found BMW and Peugeot models were particularly susceptible.

However, using a relay device, testers managed to unlock many vehicles and start the engine, with the BMW 7 Series, Ford Focus, Toyota Prius and VW Golf among the most affected models of vehicle.

Mercedes-Benz response to buyers

Mercedes-Benz has contacted all customers to reassure them that their vehicles have extensive security and snit-theft protection, which are continuously developed taking into account the latest knowledge about criminal methods and attacks on security systems.

Keyless-Go keys for all current models can be simply deactivated if customers are concerned, says M-B.

This can be done by pressing the ‘lock’ button twice a light will flash to show that the key has been de-activated. The key can then be re-activated by pressing any button. By deactivating the key it can no longer be compromised.

A short ‘how to’ video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BUD__zEtyA

M-B cautions that this will only deactivate that individual key and not any other key or the system itself. If a spare key is in the same house, this should also be deactivated.

Tracker offers advice to drivers

Meanwhile, car tracking and security specialist, Tracker, has published its top tips on preventing keyless theft, after a number of vehicles with its tracking equipment were targeted.

In 2016, 66% of Tracker’s customer thefts were committed by way of a relay attack, confirming just how prevalent this crime has become.

Tracker research showed that a quarter of those surveyed left their car keys somewhere in the hallway overnight.

This is the most common room in the house for thieves to target to intercept an electronic car key’s signal, and it’s where the signal is likely to be strongest because of its proximity to the vehicle itself.

Tracker’s advice is as follows:

  1. Check it’s locked. Always double check that your car is physically secure and alarmed, when using keyless locking systems. Wait to see the flashing hazard lights confirm it’s locked. Thieves frequently lie in wait and block locking signals as owners walk away from their cars.
  2. Keep keys out of sight. Leaving keys in the hallway or on the kitchen worktop means thieves can break in and swipe them quickly, before driving off in your car. Put them in a drawer or out of sight in a bag, at least.
  3. Block electronic key fob signals. A faraday wallet is designed to shield electronic car keys from relay attacks. But you could also put them in a metal tin or microwave overnight to protect them from a relay attack.
  4. Add layers of security. Physical barriers can be effective in deterring thieves. Consider adding a crook lock or wheel clamp to your car. Alternatively, a driveway parking post or just locked gates can stop thieves in their tracks.
  5. Install a ‘ghost immobiliser’. For another layer of protection, add a secondary barrier to your car’s factory fitted immobiliser by having a unique access code to start your car.

Thatcham initiative

Thatcham Research, the motor insurers’ automotive research centre and experts in vehicle safety technology, vehicle security and crash repair, has also been looking into the issue.

Chief technical officer, Richard Billyeald, confirmed the centre was working closely with the police and vehicle manufacturers to try and combat the problem.

Recent government data states that 91,000 vehicles were stolen in 2016, up from 70,000 in 2013. However, figures revealing the exact number of cars which have been compromised using the relay attack are not available, due to the way vehicle thefts are recorded.

Thatcham has issued five security tips for drivers with keyless entry systems to try and beat ‘relay attacks’:

  1. Contact your dealer and talk about the digital features in your car. Have there been any manufacturer software updates you can take advantage of to increase security?
  2. Check if your keyless entry fob can be turned off. If it can, and your dealer can also confirm this, then do so overnight.
  3. Store your keys away from household entry points. Keeping your keyless entry fob out of sight is not enough – thieves only need to gain proximity to the key to amplify its signal.
  4. Be vigilant. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity in your neighbourhood – and report anything unusual to the police.
  5. Review your car security. Consider aftermarket security devices such as Thatcham-approved mechanical locks and trackers, which are proven to deter thieves.