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Thatcham research finds more new cars vulnerable to relay attack

Thatcham Research has launched its second set of car security ratings for 2019, which found more new cars vulnerable to so-called ‘Relay Attack’.


The facelifted 7 Series was one of three models given a superior rating

Following the first set of ratings issued in March, the research tested a further seven cars to help consumers understand their theft risks, both in terms of physical and digital security. While the BMW 7 Series, BMW X7 and Porsche 911 were awarded Superior ratings, the DS 3 Crossback, Mazda3, Toyota RAV4 and Volvo S60 were given poor ratings when keyless entry / start were taken into account as a result of not having any security measures in place to prevent criminal exploitation of the keyless entry / start system.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer, Thatcham Research, said: “Theft claims paid by insurers in the first quarter of this year were at their highest for any quarter since 2012, with a payment made to a car crime victim every eight minutes. These figures demonstrate why the automotive industry must move to secure keyless entry / start systems, many of which offer criminals the chance to quickly and silently circumvent otherwise robust physical security.”

Billyeald added: “Were it not for the keyless entry / start vulnerability, all the cars assessed would have earned a Good rating or better.”

Vehicle Rating without keyless entry / start penalty Rating with keyless entry / start
DS3 Crossback GOOD POOR

The BMW 7 Series, BMW X7 and Porsche 911 all retained their Superior ratings through the introduction of motion sensor-enabled fobs. If the sensor detects the fob hasn’t moved for a short period, it idles and goes into sleep mode. This effectively prevents criminals with Relay Attack kit from extending the range of the communication between car and fob.

Billyeald added: “BMW and Porsche have acted decisively to secure vulnerable keyless entry / start systems. Fixes are not exclusive to premium cars, there are fixes coming through on the big-sellers too, with Ford recently announcing that it has introduced a new, more secure fob for its latest Fiesta and Focus model ranges.

“We’re seeing solutions applied to some new cars, let’s see them applied to all.”

Commenting on the research, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Vehicle manufacturers are continually investing and developing new security features – including motion sensing key fobs and other technologies – to try and stay one step ahead of criminals, which is an ongoing and extremely costly battle. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and brands will have their own individual strategies to combat vehicle theft with lead-times to engineer, test and source new countermeasures varying across the industry. Ultimately, however, technology can only do so much and this is why industry continues to call for action to prevent the open sale of devices used by criminals to steal cars.”

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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.