Car theft is increasing
During my police career, car thieves would gain entry to vehicles simply by carrying a wire coat hanger, wedge it in between the door frame and window, pop the lock and gain entry to the vehicle. Nowadays vehicles are much harder to get into, but unfortunately, the thieves are adapting to the more complex security features on vehicles. We are regularly asked for advice in regard to vehicle security and only last week I was assisting a client in attempting to track down her vehicle that had been taken – we followed the tracker, which we located, but it had been removed and discarded on a train track below a bridge.
Most of the 100,000 cars stolen annually in the UK are now thought to be taken by means of so-called ‘keyless car theft.’ There are several variations of this technique, ranging from opportunist signal blocking attacks, where a criminal jams the signal from the key-fob telling the car to lock, keeping it open and allowing access to the vehicle, to sophisticated key-spoofing using expensive specialist tools. However, an increasingly common/successful technique is ‘relay attack.’ Usually operating in pairs, criminals will identify a vehicle usually at night. One of them will get close to the house, holding the device. This device listens for a faint, distant signal emitted by the key-fob indoors. It then repeats this signal to the second criminal, who is holding a related device next to the car, the car now understands it is being unlocked. Within minutes, the criminals have accessed the vehicle. The technology/expertise required to carry out this kind of attack is now within the grasp of small-time criminals. Such activities were once an almost imaginary vulnerability, achievable only with expensive equipment operated by specialists, today you can buy the requisite devices online and quickly become proficient in its use.
In a lot of cases, especially those involving higher-end cars, this would be the end of the matter. Sophisticated organised gangs will quickly sell them on, strip them for parts, or ship them out the country. It’s also worth remembering vehicle trackers can easily be defeated by the use of inexpensive, portable signal jammers or be detected using a handheld digital RF detector, once identified they remove it – so, you cannot rely on trackers being able to recover your vehicle.
Manufacturers are only slowly addressing the problem and the police are unlikely to chase down every stolen vehicle, so the responsibility falls to the car owner to protect themselves against vehicle theft. A few reminders of what can assist in thwarting vehicle criminals.
- Next-door APP’s/neighbourhood watch: make use of them, It’s worth noting that criminals often initially leave a vehicle nearby before moving it on – all the vehicles highlighted on the image are taken off a west London next-door APP. The majority of cars are not recovered, but around 28% are (2021). So, In the immediate aftermath of a theft look around the local area and ask others to keep an eye out for it.
- Steering wheel lock: ‘old-school’ yes, but effective. A committed thief will angle-grind through the lock, or more likely the steering wheel itself, to steal the car. But the sight of a good lock may well present enough of a deterrent to send the criminal on his way and seek out an easier alternative.
- Faraday pouches (protect your keys): these simple items insulate your car keys – buy two, one for the main key, and one for the spare.
- Protect your driveway (if possible): retractable bollards, which you can lift and lock once you’ve parked. As with any physical security, a committed gang will likely make short work of them, but as with steering locks many will lose interest and try somewhere else.
- Garages: if you have one(?) clear it out use it, it makes it difficult for criminals to even know you have a nice car, let alone be able to steal.
- Disable keyless entry: It’s sometimes possible to disable the keyless element of a modern car’s key. check your handbook or with your dealer to determine if and how this can be done.
- Missing property: important to remember, the same technology used to access/steal cars can be used to just open and access them. Valuables left in vehicles, parked behind gates, with a steering wheel lock and an expensive tracker are still vulnerable to criminals. Don’t leave anything of worth in your vehicle, even short term. If the criminal decides not to take your car they will help themselves to anything inside.