The era of hotwiring cars is long since over. Contemporary car thieves leverage exceedingly sophisticated techniques to break into cars keylessly, and law enforcement, vehicle manufacturers, the insurance industry and vehicle owners are still playing catch-up.

Keyless car theft

Last week, Europol disbanded a keyless car hacking ring, arresting 31 suspects and seizing over a million dollars in criminal assets. The group had previously targeted vehicles with keyless entry and start systems, manipulating the technology in order to quickly flee the scenes with the vehicles.

“A fraudulent tool…marketed as an automotive diagnostic solution, was used to replace the original software of the vehicles, allowing the doors to be opened and the ignition to be started without the actual key fob,” stated Europol.

Connected car ecosystem

Over the years, the vehicle manufacturing industry has taken steps to improve the cyber security of vehicles. In addition, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently updated its original 2016 guidance on vehicle cyber security. However, experts note that these efforts haven’t been adequate…

According to the president of CanBusHack and founder of the Def Con security conference’s Car Hacking Village, Robert Leale, at the moment, there is not enough financial incentive for vehicle manufacturers to independently take action around keyless theft prevention.

“They typically don’t want to add cost, and really theft isn’t a problem for the manufacturers,” he observed. “It’s a problem for the user and the insurance companies.”

Preventing keyless car theft

While connected vehicle manufacturers need to take a committed, innovative approach and partner with other connected car ecosystem participants to drive stronger cyber security outcomes and legislative bodies must enact strong vehicle security standards, individuals can also proactively increase their connected vehicle security. Here’s how.

1. Look for the signal. As you lock your vehicle, whether you push a button on the door handle or click a button remotely, ensure that the indicator lights flash and that the mirrors fold (if your car has that function) and listen for the tumble of the locks.

2. Blocking car key signals. Keep your keys and key fobs in a safe place, out of range of the car and out of sight. Consider storing them in an aluminum tin or signal blocking box. If moving forward with a car key signal blocking solution, avoid automatically assuming that it works. Be sure to test it out.

When out and about, place your key fob in an aluminum tin or shielded wallet. In addition, protect your house. Determined thieves who can’t relay a signal from your key fob could potentially try breaking into and entering your home. Ensure that doors and windows are closed and locked securely, as thieves favor easy targets.

3. Opt for an old-fashioned lock. Consider purchasing a steering wheel lock, which makes an immediate get-away difficult, and would significantly interfere with a thief’s plan, meaning that the thief may abandon the operation in fear of getting caught. To prevent uncommon forms of computer hacking, you might also consider fitting a lock to your diagnostic port.

4. Get a tracker. If your car is valuable, a tracker device is an essential. A tracker means that unusual activity is monitored and that you will receive an alert if an unexpected event occurs. And as you probably already know, it also means that your car can be followed by GPS if stolen.

Trackers come in different tiers. At the high-end, certain trackers are approved for use by insurers, and they give the police a better chance of finding a stolen vehicle, especially if it’s driven into an enclosed location. At the lower-end, the less expensive trackers can be easy to deploy, but the technicalities mean that they can be less effective than their pricier counterparts.

5. Switch the fob off at night, or obtain a motion sensor fob. For some keyless cars, key fobs can be turned off. Determine whether or not your key fob has an ‘off’ mechanism, and consider turning off your fob at night. In addition, find out about whether or not your fob has a motion sensor, which means that the vehicle will not transmit signal if it’s left idle. This prevents what are known as ‘relay hacks’.

6. CCTV or smart doorbell. While digital eyes on your vehicle aren’t guaranteed to stop thieves, they can be a deterrent. They can also assist owners in providing information to law enforcement, making it easier for police to do their jobs, should a thief steal a vehicle.

7. Software updates. Keep the car thieves away by ensuring that the latest software has been installed on your car. Software updates can close security gaps, improve vehicle function, and can confer other advantages upon owners.

While some manufacturers allow vehicle owners to download updates from their websites and to transfer them to vehicles with USB devices, other vehicles can be updated via over-the-air systems.

8. Out of sight, out of mind. This is an obvious one – While at home, remember to keep your connected car in a locked garage, preventing thieves from spotting it and stealing it.

Curious about the connected car ecosystem and keyless car theft? Please see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage. Lastly, to receive cutting-edge cyber security news, reports, best practices and analyses in your inbox each week, please sign up for the CyberTalk.org newsletter.