Thankfully, there are ways you can stay one step ahead and drive safe in the knowledge that your prized wheels are protected from the hands of hackers.
When it comes to new cars, the days of inserting a physical key into the lock of a car door, twisting and hearing the satisfying 'pop' are over.
Instead, many manufacturers offer a device that sits in the owner's handbag or pocket and grants access to the vehicle without so much as the press of a button.
Key fobs aren’t the only devices changing the way we access and use our cars though, so modern technologies need to go hand in hand with new security measures - otherwise you run the risk of having your car stolen and having to make a car insurance claim.
Keyless technology is now commonplace, while the likes of Jaguar, BMW and even affordable units from Nissan offer the ability to unlock a vehicle via a smartphone app – but of course this carries inherent risks alongside the convenience.
According to vehicle security firm TRACKER, 'relay attacks', or incidents where car thieves use an electronic signal relay device to boost a keys signal distance and gain access to a parked car, are on the rise.
Of the stolen vehicles the company recovered in 2017, 80% were stolen without the use of the owner’s keys – some of which were unlocked using a relay device.
‘Many people are unintentionally leaving themselves vulnerable to these kinds of attack, by putting their keys in easy reach of relay devices,’ explains Andy Barrs, Head of Police Liaison at TRACKER.
A survey of 200 motorists carried out by TRACKER revealed that 25% of people leave their keys in the hallway.
Owners can make a few simple changes to their daily routine in order to protect themselves from a potential theft.
Remote keys left by any door, in a pot in the hallway and even on the bedside table are vulnerable to this kind of high-tech attack, so Andy suggests placing them as far away from the vehicle as possible.
‘It might sound ridiculous but placing a keyless entry device in the microwave or even in the fridge will make sure the signal it emits is blocked,’ he says.
Rather than leave your keys in the microwave or fridge you could invest in a Faraday pouch that is specifically designed to prevent radio frequency identification (RFID), near-field communication (NFC), Bluetooth, Sat Nav networks, mobile phone and WiFi connectivity being sent or received by what’s inside.
Also, don’t forget about your spare keys and apply the same level of care to your spare keys as you would to your main keys or fobs. It’s also worth keeping in mind that keyless cars can be driven until the engine is switched off without the key being in the car. Your insurer will reject a claim where the keys have been left in the car or if the car had been left unlocked.
It's not just the most advanced keyless entry systems that are potentially susceptible to high-tech criminality, as savvy thieves can target the most basic remote central locking.
A story by the BBC claimed that a growing number of criminals were using basic devices (usually purchased from the web) to block or jam a remote central locking system, leaving the vehicle unlocked and open.
‘Always double check that your car is physically secure and alarmed when using keyless or remote locking systems,’ says Andy.
Cars are now more intelligent than they have ever been, boasting connected on-board computer systems.
Many vehicles now require log-in details or use smartphone apps to make the most of these new features, such as connected maps, weather updates and live news reports beamed to the infotainment screen.
‘Modern cars should be considered as highly sophisticated mobile computers,’ explains cyber security expert Richard Kirk.
‘Car owners should apply the same rules that they follow, or should be following, for their computers and smartphones,’ he recommends. ‘Use hard to guess passwords for any online accounts, do not share passwords and do not give anyone access to your car app or portal account.’
Richard also warns about hackers.
‘Car hacking can be defined as unauthorised access to a car via electronic means and the subsequent theft or control usually without the owner's knowledge,’ he explains.
‘It normally occurs by gaining access to the car's electronic systems, either through the on-board systems or remotely via the owner's app or manufacturer's car monitoring and control system.
‘The techniques vary and some are more difficult than others, but hackers have proven they don't need to be physically near a vehicle to take control of it.’
However, there are ways to protect your vehicle from a high-tech attack and one of the best is to invest in some low-tech kit.
A simple steering wheel lock or wheel clamp might look ugly, but they are enough to deter even the hardiest criminals.
These items typically require noisy drills or saws to cut through, so often act as the best form of defence.
Driveway parking posts are also a cheap and efficient way of deterring would-be thieves, while simple CCTV systems add further peace of mind.
Finally, Andy suggests installing a tracking system, such as the one supplied by TRACKER, if you want an extra layer of security.
‘A tracking device won’t stop your vehicle being stolen, but it significantly increases chances of police recovering and returning it, if thieves do take it,’ he says.
As cars get more technologically advanced for our convenience, it’s important that drivers take extra steps to protect our vehicles from new forms of theft. Thankfully, with some common sense, cyber security and a bit of classic kit, you can make sure your car doesn’t appeal to thieves.
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