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Keyless cars - every rose has its thorns


Is the vehicle industry wilfully blind?


Are keyless cars worth the cost to society?


Picture this, you walk up to your car, it automatically unlocks, you get comfy, press a button and away you go. A scene reminiscent of the 1980s TV show, Knight Rider with his car, KITT.


Now time for a reality check. Keyless cars are relatively easy to steal so either customers risk losing their cars or the scene goes more like this:


You walk up to your car, get out your Faraday pouch, open the pouch and get out your key fob. Your car automatically unlocks. You remove the steering wheel lock, disable your immobiliser, get comfy, press a button and away you go.


A mismatch between vision and reality. Customers have a choice of the Knight Rider experience with a significant risk of car theft, or sensible security measures that reduce the intended, positive experience of the keyless car.


Evolution of technology often has teething problems. Is the risk of theft a stage in the evolution of keyless cars or is the vehicle industry wilfully blind to the cost of keyless cars on society? Should they still make keyless cars?


Are keyless cars becoming more difficult to steal?


ADAC’s (lit. 'General German Automobile Club') released a disturbing report, keyless car security is showing little improvement over time. ADAC investigated security against relay attacks that thieves carry out using devices available online. They use these devices to capture the key signal which they can then use to unlock the car and drive it away.


Investigations from 2020 onwards showed the following results:


Score 05-2020: 4 out of 360 models tested protected (1.1%)

Score 01-2021: 11 out of 405 models tested protected (2.7%)

Score 11-2021: 21 of 486 models tested protected (4.3%)

Score 01-2023: 29 models protected out of 567 tested (5.1%)

Score 08-2023: 44 out of 616 models tested protected (7.1%)


Around 93% of keyless cars can still be opened and started by relay attack. 93%!


What is the impact of keyless car theft on society?


Superintendent Matthew Moscrop is part of Britain's National Police Chiefs’ Council team that targets vehicle theft. He points out that


The widespread use of keyless technology has unfortunately led to the development of devices which are easily accessible and make stealing vehicles all too straightforward for criminals.


Organised crime groups are targeting keyless cars, generating more work for police at many levels, including:


  • in every day policing,

  • working with the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NAVCIS) to target ports that are key routes for shipping stolen vehicles

  • working with the Home Office and the Government to produce legislation that stops the sale of relay attack devices.

On top of that, people are paying more for insurance premiums, influenced by a surge in theft that is driven by the ease of stealing keyless cars.


Is the automotive industry being wilfully blind?


Not only are customers having to spend time arming and disarming additional security features to work around the vulnerability of keyless cars, the surge in vehicle theft is hitting society including customers, police and the Government.


Should manufacturers stop making keyless cars until they have removed the security threat? Or are these teething problems acceptable as the technology evolves?


I wonder if the situation would be different if the Government had introduced keyless cars. Would the impact have been tolerated as much as it is now? Is it ok that society should bear the negative impact of this surge in vehicle theft?


Or should manufacturers stop making keyless cars until the security threat has been removed?


With keyless cars in mind, if you look around your industry with a clear, honest view, what examples of wilfull blindness do you think you might see?

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