ELECTRONIC VEHICLE THEFT
Most vehicle security systems rely on the security of the manufacturer’s key, unfortunately unscrupulous electronic device makers have found and exploited weaknesses within this system.
Over the last 10 years advancements in vehicle security shows a steady decline in vehicle theft, but these figures are not necessarily accurate, and may be distorted by the way vehicle crime is now recorded.
In reality electronic vehicle crime in the UK is rapidly increasing, with over 95% of vehicles now stolen with either a key or electronically. Official figures claim that 80% of those vehicles were stolen by “Unknown Means” or what is commonly known as “Electronic Theft”.
There are two types of electronic theft, one by using legitimate manufacturers devices designed to be used by professionals, the other by devices which are clearly made not to have a legitimate purpose!
Electronic device manufacturers have found weaknesses within the on-board vehicle security system. They either make a device to copy the coded signals from your vehicle key or by accessing the vehicle on-board computer system directly.
These devices are too easily obtained by the wrong person, while most are not even illegal to buy! There is also a misconception that only certain makes are susceptible to this kind of electronic attack, in fact all vehicle security systems, even motorhome alarms are vulnerable to some form of electronic attack.
WHAT KIND OF DEVICES DO THEY USE?
RF Code Grabber
This is probably one of the most effective and worrying type of theft device! Firstly because it is not limited to one make of vehicle and secondly, it’s the fastest and most covert way of stealing your vehicle. This device enables the thief to copy and reproduce RF signals, these are sent when your remote control is pressed to lock or unlock your vehicle.
Now, the thief can replicate these same signals and codes that your key or remote sends, thus lock or unlock your vehicle. Should your alarm, pager or tracking system be armed by the same remote control, your alarm will NOT activate and your tracker will not send any kind of alert.
Electronic Key Programmer
This is either plugged into the OBD socket or could be connected directly to the Can-Bus or the K-Line harness either inside the vehicle or from outside. Once connected it gives the thief the ability to programme a new Smart Key, Transponder or RF Control to the on-board system.
Programming software is used to attack the main ECU, this will allow the thief to swap the original unit and transponder for a ‘cloned’ one, or even bypass all of the main security system completely.
Remote Control Jamming
Still being used and is surprisingly effective. These are the simplest of products also relying on the victim not noticing that their vehicle did not safely lock or alarm. The thief activates a jamming device, this blocks your signal and leaves your doors unlocked with any security disarmed, when you go to lock your vehicle or arm your alarm using the remote control.
Transponders hold a unique code and are located inside the vehicle key. This code is transmitted to the vehicle immobiliser for identification purposes. If the codes from the transponder and the immobiliser match, then the vehicle engine will start. A cloning device allows the thief to copy and replicate the transponders unique code, thereby fooling the immobiliser into thinking the correct key is present.
Smart Key Extenders
These two devices are designed to transmit and receive your keys unique code over a far greater distance than is meant, fooling the vehicle security system into believing that the genuine key is close to the vehicle. This then gives a vehicle thief the ability to open the doors and drive it away, the alarm system will be in a disarmed state and the tracker will send no alert to the owner.
Security codes can be overcome by reading and writing to the EEPROM, this can be done via the Can-Bus line or even the vehicle ECU. Once connected, the thief can now override all the security system checks, leaving the vehicle open to an electronic theft.
GSM / PCN / GPS Jamming
The effectiveness of some of these devices could easily be called into question, however some of the more expensive ones are effective, and now more widely used. These type of device are designed to block most types of communication within your vehicle security system, however not all security systems rely on communication to be effective against an attack.
WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED?
Electronic theft has been around for a long time and depending on which country you originate from, depends on how long and how widespread the problem. Certain countries are worse than others, Poland, Russia, China, and USA, to name but a few.
The market for stolen cars and parts is worldwide; this is not helped now by the internet and the freedom of travel within the European Union being relaxed. It has never been easier for criminal gangs to obtain these devices and systems, along with the knowledge of how to steal and target a certain make of vehicle.
Due to the massive rise in vehicle crime in the early 1990's, the insurance industry financed and set up the Thatcham security team. They became instrumental in driving up security standards within the industry and their testing is considered to be one of the most rigorous in the world.
Unfortunately, they relied on most of their security to encryption, especially the vehicle key and immobiliser. It was only a matter of time before this strength was then targeted and exploited by the criminal element. The major problem is not just that the industry has been aware of this problem for years, but they have either been unwilling, unable or far too slow to react in countering this threat.
By: Mr Carl Meyer. Director. Outsmart the Thief Ltd.
© Outsmart the Thief Ltd 2016
HISTORY OF VEHICLE ALARMS
The first ever vehicle theft was in France in 1913, it was a Peugeot stolen from Baron de Zuylen by his mechanic, the thief and vehicle were later found in a nearby town. With no security at all, theft of vehicles soon became a problem. In1916 the first ever type of vehicle alarm was invented. Ironically it was designed by an unknown convicted prisoner serving time in a Denver jail; his alarm was manually activated and sounded a siren when someone attempted to start the engine.
One of the earliest Patents for what we would recognise as a car alarm seems to have been applied for in 1918. This is probably one of the first recorded type of electrical alarm and immobiliser; the inventers were Edward Birkenbuel and George Evans. Their security system utilised a 3x3 grid of double contact switches, basically the current was diverted either to the spark plugs or the horn, depending on the settings. The end result was either you got to start your engine, or your horn sounded until your battery went flat.
In 1967 the Auto Sentinal alarm system claimed to be so effective “That the only way you could steal it was for the thief to pick it up and carry it away”. Battery drain from the alarm and immobiliser systems had always been a big problem, but in 1971 an inventor called Charles E. Davis solved the problem. Rather than the alarm continuing to sound till your battery went flat, he simply made the alarm sound for a set period and then reset.
With a massive rise in vehicle theft during the early 1970s, and the failure of car manufacturers to make their vehicles secure, unsurprisingly there came a rise in popularity of after-market security alarms. Vehicle alarms have become increasingly more sophisticated in trying to ward off potential thieves, unfortunately the modern vehicle thief has responded to this.
WHAT IS AN ALARM
An alarm system is an electronic device which is wired individually into the vehicle's electronics. It is so designed in an attempt to discourage the theft of your motorhome and its contents. It does this by sounding a very loud siren and flashing the vehicle lights, should a thief gain unauthorised access. Do not confuse alarms with immobilisers; a conventional motorhome alarm system will not stop your vehicle being stolen.
There is a growing argument on how effective a conventional Thatcham Approved alarm system really is, when you take into account ‘Electronic Theft’ and in today's climate people are no longer willing to respond or do anything upon hearing an alarm sound!
Now that motorhomes are becoming ever more popular, they are being targeted more and more by the professional thief. True, there is a plethora of motorhome security systems available in the marketplace, but not all motorhome alarms work in the same way.
There are two types of Thatcham Approved alarm devices, the most popular is armed and disarmed by the vehicle remote control. The other is controlled by an after-market remote control; this is normally supplied with the alarm.
WHAT IS A FACTORY FITTED IMMOBILISER
The immobiliser is an electronic security device that is normally fitted by the vehicle manufacturer; it was designed to stop the vehicle engine from starting should the correct key not be present. Since 1998 it has been mandatory for all new vehicles to have one fitted, so any car or motorhome that was built after that date will probably have one already. They all work on a similar principal that electronic code in the vehicle key, must match the one inside your vehicle computer.
Unfortunately these type of immobilisers have now been targeted by criminal gangs, they now use electronic devices to override the factory fitted security system. This is generally now known as “Electronic Theft” but its official title is, “Theft by Unknown Means”.
© Outsmart the Thief Ltd 2016