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Monthly Archives: January 2019

  • Keyless cars—convenient automobiles or a liability?

    As automotive companies look to incorporate technology to make their cars more convenient to use, the security gaps that exist in modern devices have only become more apparent. Features such as keyless ignition have become a liability, far from the selling points that automotive companies thought they would be.

     

    Which?, a popular consumer group based in the U.K. recently released their research exposing the security flaws in the keyless system that make some of the most popular vehicles vulnerable. Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus, Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Golf were all found to be at risk.

     

    How are keyless cars stolen?

    One way keyless cars are stolen is by relaying the signal from the fob to the vehicle. In this case, thieves do not need to have physical access to the fob or the key. They can stand outside the home and try to detect the signal from the fob. Once they find the signal, they bounce that signal off to another device placed close to the car. Once the car detects that signal in close proximity, it lowers its’ defences giving car thieves unfettered access to the vehicle.

     

    Keyless systems, which work on the principles of electronic relays, can easily be mimicked to unlock the cars even in the absence of the real fob. In the newly released research report, ADAC, a German Automobile club, attacked keyless systems on 237 vehicles in total. They found that only 3 vehicles were secure while all remaining vehicles were vulnerable to some extent.

     

    The three cars that were found to be secure had the same manufacturer—Jaguar Land Rover. It shows that the solutions to address these security flaws do exist in the market but despite that, most automobile companies keep putting insecure vehicles out that give car thieves an ever-increasing buffet of cars to choose from.

     

    Car Theft Statistics

    Even though the total number of car thefts has gone down significantly since the 1990s, the year that ended in March 2018 saw more car thefts than any year since 2009. The security flaws that exist in the keyless are partly to blame. As most of the keyless car thefts target high-end vehicles, some studies show that the total cost of car thefts has gone up even as the total number has gone down over the past two decades.

     

    Mike Hawes, who leads the group that lobbies for the automotive industry pointed out that less than 0.3% of the cars on British roads are stolen. He tried to use that figure to vouch for the security of the vehicles these days but made no mention of the resources government has put out to make communities and cities safer.

     

    Although modern vehicles can sound an alarm when car thieves try to physically tamper the systems, they remain oblivious to more discreet manipulations. The wireless technology that many of the modern vehicles use is vulnerable to the mimicking devices that can be bought cheaply online.

     

    The automobile manufacturers and the consumers face the same challenge. The basic concern that is at the heart of this epidemic is how willing are we to sacrifice security in the name of convenience and automation?

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