These days, most thieves have moved beyond the hotwiring you might see in an action movie. Modern cars have a transponder chip in the ignition key that must match the car to start it. Keyless or keyed, it seems to be no problem for car thieves; more than one million vehicles were stolen in 2022, a jump from the prior year by 7%. Over the past five years, the number of stolen cars in the U.S. has doubled. Luxury brands like Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche, Tesla, and more, are increasingly affected by keyless car theft. But how do thieves steal cars with transponder keys?
In the movies, it looks like it takes a couple of minutes for an experienced thief to smash a car window and hotwire a car. But experienced criminals are looking for opportunity, access, and an easy target.
Once cars began using electronic keys, criminals learned an easier method over the old smash and grab; just steal the key. Thieves can steal keys left in mounted lock boxes at car dealerships. If they’re clever, they may be able to just snag the key off the wall. Criminals can also break into the boxes with a bolt cutter after hours. Thieves can steal keyless cars using various techniques that also exploit vulnerabilities in the keyless entry and ignition systems technology, too.
Let’s look at all the issue of keyless car theft and how you can prevent it.
The Trouble with “Keyless” Cars (That Have Transponder Keys)
Today, thieves don’t have to overcome a lot of obstacles in the car itself to steal it. They can simply use the programmed signal from the car’s keyless entry fob. But how do they get that signal?
If the keys lack a signal-blocker shield (called an RFID blocker), thieves can use a transponder device, which you can pick up online on the cheap. That electronic device can capture the keyless entry code as it’s sent from the fob to the car. They can use that captured signal to open the car door with no alarm, start it, and drive away. It basically tricks the car into thinking the key is nearby. This technique is also known as key cloning. No matter what you call it, it’s an attractive way for criminals to take advantage of modern technology and turn it against us.
This technique has now combined with something called “relay theft.” Relay thieves work in pairs. The thieves use a transmitter device. One thief stands by the car with the transmitter. The other goes near the dealership to try to pick up a signal from a key that’s hanging from the lockbox.
There’s also a technique called signal jamming. Thieves use devices that emit radio signals to block the communication between the key fob and the car. When the owner presses the lock button on the key fob, the signal is jammed, preventing the car from locking. If you’re not paying attention, you walk away thinking everything is fine. The thief can then gain access to the unlocked vehicle.
Some thieves exploit vulnerabilities in the car’s onboard diagnostic port (OBD port) to connect a programming device. By reprogramming a blank key fob, they gain access to the car and can start it with this duplicate key.
Another technique is to hack the car’s immobilizer system. Keyless cars use this system to prevent the engine from turning over without the correct electronic key. Skilled hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in the car’s immobilizer system software to bypass or disable this feature and start the vehicle.
Stealing a car today is easier than it’s ever been. Even worse is the fact that keyless car theft is increasing. A study in late 2022 showed that keyless cars are actually twice as likely to be stolen as traditional cars with keys.
When coupled with the expertise of serious, experienced criminals, car dealerships have a lot to worry about. Fortunately, there are a variety of methods to stop criminals in their tracks.
How to Prevent Keyless Car Theft at Your Auto Dealership
Making your lot less attractive to thieves is and should always be a top priority. If you make it harder for criminals to steal car parts or the car itself, they will look for other, less attractive targets of opportunity. Some of the standard methods and tools for preventing theft at an auto dealership include:
See How Simple It Can Be To Secure Your Business.