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  • Writer's pictureDavid O'Callaghan

Understanding the Risks of a Smart Key System in Your Vehicle.

Updated: Jul 13

In today's world of automotive security, the rise of sophisticated theft methods poses a significant threat to vehicle owners globally. Investigative services warn of a prevalent technique known as a "relay attack," a method increasingly favoured by modern auto thieves. With the advent of smart key systems, virtually any vehicle with push-button start capability becomes vulnerable to this type of attack.

So, how does it work? Criminals utilise antenna enabled devices capable of intercepting the radio frequency signals emitted by smart keys, which communicate with vehicles. By replicating these signals, thieves can deceive the vehicle into unlocking and starting, all without physically possessing the key. This method, once relatively uncommon, has now become a prevalent means of car theft worldwide.

Over the past ten years, there has been a continuous evolution of relay devices, which can now operate at extended ranges. Thieves use these devices to intercept key signals even when the key fob is stored safely inside one's home. This alarming trend underscores the urgent need for heightened awareness and proactive measures to protect against automotive theft.

To safeguard against relay attacks, experts recommend keeping key fobs as far away from exterior entry points as possible. Additionally, some vehicle manuals may include an off switch to deactivate the fob's wireless signals when not in use. Alternatively, storing key fobs in metal containers or signal-blocking Faraday bags can effectively prevent signal interception.

While reverting to physical car keys may seem like a viable solution, it's not without its drawbacks. Older models equipped with traditional keys may deter relay attacks but remain susceptible to other theft methods. Criminals have adapted to exploit vulnerabilities inherent in modern vehicle technology, such as accessing the OBD port or CAN bus system to reprogram keys or impersonate key remotes.

To mitigate the risk of theft, its advised that vehicle owners do their best to implement multiple layers of security measures. These include parking in well-lit areas, utilising secondary alarms or tracking devices, and employing physical deterrents like wheel or steering wheel locks. While no security measure is foolproof, adopting these strategies can significantly reduce the likelihood of falling victim to automotive theft.

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