Experts say there's a device that allows thieves to steal a car

National Insurance Crime Bureau recently discovered a mystery car-theft device, that can imitate a driver’s key fob and start the car engine.

    Dec 13, 2016 5:21 PM  PT
Experts say there's a device that allows thieves to steal a car
author: Claire   

Many cars are now equipped with keyless technology. As such, new security risks have emerged. These days, it's possible for thieves to hack into your car and drive it away. You may remember our report on Tesla being hacked by security experts. This was done via a trick to steal the Tesla app's login information. Now there's another mystery device recently discovered by insurance crime investigators. This gizmo can imitate a driver's key fob and start your car engine remotely. 

Experts from the National Crime Insurance Bureau (NCIB) said a car-stealing device has recently entered the United States from overseas. It has the potential to cause serious problems. The whole theft process is rooted in overcoming cyber security. When a would-be "victim" is parking and then locking his or her vehicle, a hacker hiding close to the location will at the same hold a device that can receive and amplify the electronic signal sent from the driver's key fob to the car. Then the signal gets transferred to a second device which mimics the key fob. It deceives the car, disarms its security system, unlocks the vehicle and starts the engine. 

"We've now seen for ourselves that these devices work," said Joe Wehrle, the President and Chief Executive of an insurance organization, in a statement. "Maybe they don't work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease."

The researchers from NCIB obtained the mystery device from a third-party security expert at an overseas company. They carried out a two-week trial by testing 35 vehicles of different makes and models. And unfortunately, half of them fell victim to the hacking device. Among the weaker cars were the 2015 Ford Edge, 2016 Chevrolet Impala, 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid and the 2017 Toyota Camry.

We all know that car-stealing used to be at plague in the 1990s, with 1.66 millions vehicles stolen in 1991. However, thanks to the advancement of car-security technology and law enforcement, the number dropped to 699,594 in 2013. With cars being more "intelligent" and internet-connected, one would think that auto thefts would be on the decline.

Although there's currently no report of a car being stolen with such device in the U.S., NICB experts said the hacking tool was already being used in Europe. To better protect your car, they suggest the driver keep his or her key fob in hand at all times. 

Moreover, regarding the victimized cars "used" in the trial, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an auto industry association, told NBC News that they're making efforts to improve vehicle's safety.

"Protecting vehicle access and security continue to be our top priorities. Automakers have been working on multiple fronts to address security and enhance it."