Cars vulnerable to keyless theft highlighted by new ratings

A new safety rating has been designed to warn car buyers of the theft risk posed by models with insecure keyless entry systems.

Security expert Thatcham Research announced the new ratings, which will label each car as either ‘superior’, ‘good’, ‘basic’, ‘poor’ or ‘unacceptable’ based on their vulnerability to thieves. However, the scheme has been questioned by car industry figures for confusing the issue, rather than simplifying it.

Of the 11 cars the company has tested so far in 2019, six have received a ‘poor’ rating, including the Ford Mondeo, Hyundai Nexo, Kia Proceed and Porsche Macan. While the affected models had other security features described as ‘good’, they had no way to prevent relay attack thefts that mimic the keyless entry system without having physical access to a key.

Tested cars that earned a ‘superior’ rating include the Audi E-tron, Jaguar XE, Range Rover Evoque and Mercedes B-Class, which all use more secure wireless technology for their keyless entry/start systems, or key fobs that go to sleep when idle.

The most vulnerable car tested under the new system was the Suzuki Jimny, which received an ‘unacceptable’ rating. “This car falls short by a considerable distance,” Thatcham Research chief technical officer Richard Billyeald said. “This car scores consistently badly across all criteria, missing some fundamental security features that consumers might rightly expect should be fitted.”

“We’ve seen too many examples of cars being stolen in seconds from driveways,” Billyeald added. “Most of the cars rated ‘poor’ would have achieved at least a ‘good’ rating had their keyless entry/start systems not been susceptible to the relay attack.

“Security has come a long way since vehicle crime peaked in the early 1990s. But the layers of security added over the years count for nothing when they can be circumvented instantly by criminals using digital devices.”

Any car that gets rated by Thatcham and has a vulnerable keyless entry or start system will now automatically earn a ‘poor’ rating – a ruling that has come under scrutiny by other industry groups.

SMMT CEO Mike Hawes expressed “serious concerns” about the system’s blanket approach to security.

“It doesn’t compare like with like, failing to differentiate vehicles with keyless and traditional entry systems in a combined rating and failing to distinguish between different model grades and specifications,” Hawes said in a statement. “It confuses rather than simplifies a very complex issue and will not help consumers, rather offering a signpost to thieves and increasing the risk of targeted criminal activity.”

Thatcham is an independent group that has been testing vehicle security in the UK since the 1990s and rates the security of every new car launched in the UK.

The group recommends owners of vulnerable models keep their car keys well away from household entry points when at home, and to consider investing in a Faraday shielding pouch to block signals between car and key.

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