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New cars still vulnerable to keyless theft, finds Thatcham

While progress is being made by carmakers on addressing keyless theft risks, some models are still coming to market with inherent security vulnerabilities.

Keyless theft

Thatcham Research is assessing vulnerability to hacking and keyless theft.

A total of 13 new cars were tested by Thatcham Research for their ability to withstand keyless or ‘relay attack’ attempts, with four vehicles given ‘poor’ ratings: the Mazda CX-30, MG HS Excite T-GDI, Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium and Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100.

The rating was given after Thatcham Research security engineers were able to access and start the vehicles using Relay Attack equipment, indicating that criminal gangs would be able to do the same.

The tests – the first batch carried out by Thatcham in 2020 for its latest Consumer Security Ratings – also saw two cars, the Hyundai i10 Premium MPI and Tesla Model 3, given ‘basic’ ratings after they were found to have traditional security features missing. Thatcham has confirmed the rating for the Tesla will not change following its forthcoming firmware update.

However, the BMW X6 M50d, BMW 218i Gran Coupe M Sport, Land Rover Discovery Sport D150, Mini Electric, Porsche Taycan, Škoda Superb and Toyota Supra were all awarded ‘Superior’ ratings for all-round security and the presence of a Relay Attack.

The figures show significant improvements to the first batch of results, which were issued in March 2019 and found only four of the 11 cars were rated ‘Superior’ for security.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer, Thatcham Research, said: “The keyless vulnerability measures with new vehicles is steadily increasing and should be applauded. However, all new cars with keyless systems ought to have a solution to this long-standing vulnerability in place.

“It’s also important to remember that the motion-sensor fob, while a good short-term fix, is not the ultimate solution to the keyless vulnerability, which should be designed-out of new vehicles completely in the future.”

The rated vehicles:

Vehicle Rating*
BMW 218i Gran Coupe M Sport SUPERIOR
Hyundai i10 Premium MPI BASIC
Land Rover Discovery Sport D150 SUPERIOR
Mazda CX-30 POOR
Mini Electric SUPERIOR
Porsche Taycan Turbo SUPERIOR
Škoda Superb SUPERIOR
Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium POOR
Tesla Model 3 BASIC
Toyota Supra SUPERIOR
Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100 POOR

*Where available, Thatcham Research tested one model with keyless entry and start fitted. This may be an optional feature on some or all models.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006.