Keyless entry leaving hundreds of popular cars open to theft

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Thousands of cars with keyless entry, including the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Focus, can easily be stolen by thieves using cheap electronic equipment bought online, according to new research.

Consumer group Which analysed research from the German General Automobile Club, which tested 237 cars with keyless entry and found that thieves can easily trick 230 of them into thinking that the key is closer than it really is, enabling them to unlock and start a car.

A further four cars with keyless entry can be either unlocked or started. Only three—all from Jaguar Land Rover—were not susceptible at all. This means 99% of the cars tested have some form of security flaw.

“Car makers have sacrificed the security of scores of modern cars for the sake of convenience” Which said in a release. “And, with other methods of car theft also rife and the number of cars being stolen on the rise, manufacturers must do more to make their cars more secure.”

These attacks use ‘relay’ boxes—one near the car and the other near where the key is kept—to lengthen the signal produced by the key, fooling the car into thinking it’s close by.

In total, more than 30 brands have made insecure cars, including Audi, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Peugeot, Renault, Skoda and Volvo. More than one car is being stolen every seven minutes in England and Wales, with the number of vehicle thefts rising by 39% in 2017 and 2018.

Car manufacturers are taking steps to tackle the problem, according to Which. As of January 2019, new cars should start to be better protected thanks to new criteria in the New Vehicle Security Assessment.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, the UK body responsible for vehicle safety and security, told Which: “The new criteria will highlight the additional risk of vehicles susceptible to these attacks, and incentivise car makers to introduce measures that secure their vehicles against electronic compromise.”

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk