The Latest Car Theft Trick You Need To Know

Your keyless cars just aren’t safe. The “relay attack” is the latest trick used in car theft to drive away with your car.
Jason Snyman
2018-06-04
We’ve spoken about a variety of hijacking and car theft trends in South Africa, including remote jamming. Now we’re going to be looking at a relatively obscure theft technique. It's called a relay attack. The relay attack technique has been around for a couple of years now. It’s starting to gain some serious traction, particularly in Europe. With the massive increase of keyless cars in South Africa, we thought it important to take a closer look.

What Is A Relay Attack?

Stealing a fancy new car should be difficult, right? Turns out all that new technology could be used against you. This method of car theft involves criminals working together. Two or more people use electronic signal-relay devices to pick up the car key radio signal from inside your home. One device receives this signal from the key fob and then transfers that signal to the second device held near the vehicle. The thieves can then gain entry to your car and drive off with it. We’ve already seen CCTV footage of such attacks occurring in England. It is frighteningly easy, fast and effective. With modern vehicles, we don’t need an actual key to unlock or start the car. As long as the ‘key fob’ is present and in close proximity to the car, such as in the driver’s pocket, it will work. So, the thieves are able to “trick” the car’s system, gain access and start the ignition. But what happens when the original key is no longer in range? Cars don’t just cut the engine if the key isn’t detected anymore. Instead, you might get a warning on the dashboard or have to put up with a warning sound. But by that time, your car is long gone. There’s no conclusive evidence that relay attacks are a big problem in South Africa, yet. But it’s probably only a question of time. Luckily, as easy as this trick is to pull off, it’s just as easy to prevent.

How Can You Prevent Car Theft?

So, obviously, for the device to relay the signal from the original fob it must first be detected within the house. Many keyless car owners are at risk of theft, because many people don’t take the necessary precautions. Most people leave their car keys in their hallway on a hook or in a drawer or on the kitchen counter. Even when tucked away safely in a drawer and out of sight, the devices can still pick up on the signal. In order to block this signal, you need cold hard steel. The best solution, then, would be to keep your keys in a small safe – which is a great idea these days in anyway. If you don’t have a safe, your microwave will do. Just don’t turn it on. It’s always better to be on the safe side – check that your car is properly locked, keep your keys in a metal container and out of sight, park your car in a secure area and finally, invest in a tracking system.  You could even look into what they call a ghost immobilizer – an extra layer of security which requires a unique access code to start the car. Another device definitely worth getting is a Faraday Cage Sleeve – a pouch designed to block wireless / radio transmissions. Keep your fob in there when you’re not driving. While automakers work on addressing the complicated security of their products, these will all just give you that extra peace of mind. The possibility of what tech-savvy criminals could do with the surge in smart locks on homes, however, is a nightmare we’d rather not think about.