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High end cars: the latest target for hackers

By Nickie Brooks, Managing Director, Alternative Route Finance
Wednesday, November 5, 2014 - 13:20

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With new technology comes new security risks

In the latest article from Alternative Route Finance, Nickie Brooks, Managing Director, looks at recent news of keyless cars being targeted for theft

Car technology is advancing quicker than ever, and with new technology comes new security risks that criminals will look to exploit. Staying up to date with the latest advancements has never been so crucial for security companies.

As previously reported by FleetPoint one of the most recent developments comes as cars with keyless entry become highly targeted. Using a device that is still largely unfamiliar to police and car manufactures alike, thieves are able to mimic the signal a vehicles key fob emits, giving them unrestricted access to the car. Insurance companies are the most recent stakeholder to comment on the new method, saying that break-ins using this technique are becoming far more common.

Security researchers have so far identified transmission system hacks based between the key fob and the vehicle used by most car manufacturers. The fob, a cars keyless system that provides two factor authentication, broadcasts a unique and encrypted code. When it matches the code the car broadcasts, it’s able to lock and unlock the car. It is suspected that the hack is based around disrupting that signal, which would open the doors of the car.

However, so far the car thefts have revolved around complex surveillance. In many cases the signal that the car broadcasts is stolen and then replicated to open the car. The only sign that the car has been wirelessly unlocked is that the owners fob won’t work first time, but will require two or three clicks before the car opens.

Thatcham Research has confirmed the cars most at risk are high end Audis and BMWs, due to their popularity across Europe. Insurance companies have said if you have a car you think is at risk, you should be taking additional security measures such as secure off road parking or the installation of moveable bollards.

Although little is known about the current hack, many companies are taking action against it. Car manufacturers are currently updating their software and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) are attempting to get stronger legislation in place, both trying to stop the rising trend.

Until this is in place, security companies that manage cars should remain extra vigilant. The hack can often rely on waiting for someone to open the car to copy the signal it gives off. This can mean the potential hacker will need to wait around until the opportunity arises.

Car thefts across the UK are generally falling however, with rates dropping nearly a quarter of million over the last 10 years (according to the UK office for National Statistics). While this new phenomenon is a problem, the largest cause of car theft is still the simplest – stealing the keys. So although it’s important to remain watchful for would-be hackers, the old methods are still the biggest problem for security companies to deal with.


Nickie Brooks is the Managing Director of Alternative Route Finance, a leading provider of car leasing, van leasing and fleet management solutions. She has spent her entire career in the motor and finance industries

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