We use cookies to provide you with a responsive service to make your experience of our website(s) better. Please confirm that you agree to our use cookies
in accordance with our cookies policy.

By continuing to use our website we will assume that you are happy to receive non-privacy intrusive cookies.
Please be aware that if you disable cookies some functionality on the site will not work.

Alternatively, read our cookie policy to find out more about our cookie use and how to disable cookies.

Accept and continue
Reading this article counts towards accumulating your annual CII structured learning hours. Log in or register to track your reading time and answer questions related to the Emerging Risks learning outcome(s)

How to tackle the growing threat of keyless car theft

At a glance

  • Keyless car theft is a growing concern, with criminals using advanced methods to crack vehicles’ entry systems
  • A recent study shows that a large proportion of modern cars are susceptible to attack
  • However, there are measures that motorists can take to reduce the risk of becoming a victim


This article counts towards accumulating your annual CII CPD structured learning hours for Emerging Risks.

By reading this article, and correctly answering the three questions underneath, you will have achieved the following learning outcome: Identify key emerging risks and describe their main characteristics.

Visit the CPD Hub to log in and begin accumulating CPD hours.


Keyless entry systems have revolutionised vehicle security, enabling us to unlock and start our cars with the minimum of fuss, via a simple fob, using short-wave radio technology.

Unfortunately, it’s not just car owners who are benefitting from this helpful keyless system – latest research shows that the system may be aiding car thieves, too.

A rise in thefts

In the year to March 2018, reported vehicle theft in England and Wales rose to its highest annual total since 2009 – with more than 106,000 offences of theft or unauthorised taking of a vehicle.

And in a 2018 report by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), a massive rise in the cost of motor theft claims – up 32% to £271m – was attributed, in part, to, “the widely reported growth in keyless vehicle crime.”

Relay attack

Thatcham Research – a not-for-profit organisation that provides insight into automotive safety and security – has run a number of workshops relating to keyless car theft.

Robert McWilliams, Approved Repairer Vendor Manager at Zurich, says they have been a real eye-opener: “Criminals are using really advanced methods to steal keyless vehicles.

“The most common of these is called a ‘relay attack’. This is where one member of a gang stands near the car owner’s front door and uses a special device to pick up signals from their key fob inside the house. The thief then transmits these to an accomplice standing beside the vehicle, who is able to unlock it.

“Once the criminals have gained access, they tap into the vehicle’s diagnostic system, create a new code and send this to a blank fob that they have with them. They are then able to drive the vehicle away. The whole process can take as little as 60 seconds.”

Luxury cars a prime target

Because of their high resale value, luxury cars are a magnet for criminals. And a large number of these keyless luxury models are proving vulnerable to attacks.

In January 2019, Consumer body Which? analysed keyless car theft data provided by the General German Automobile Club.

The results were startling. Of 237 keyless cars examined, only three were deemed to be completely ‘safe’: the latest versions of the Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover and Jaguar I-PACE.

“Car makers have sacrificed the security of scores of modern cars for the sake of convenience,“ the report warns.

Reducing the risk 

So, what can motorists do to better protect their keyless vehicles?

“We will never, ever get to the stage where there is no cyber crime,” says Robert. “The guys who are committing these offences are as technologically advanced as the ones who are creating the vehicles. However, we can do certain things to try to prevent it.”

There are a number of measures that motorists can take to minimise their risk of becoming a victim.

  1. Contact the car manufacturer to find out if their keyless fob can be switched off overnight (for example, if you have an older Mercedes, you may be able to switch off the keyless signal by double-clicking the lock button on your key).
  2. Check if any software updates have been released that would make the fob more secure.
  3. Store the key fob as far away from the front door as possible.
  4. Check the effectiveness of pouches or containers (metal cases work well) in shielding the fob’s radio signals from thieves.
  5. Don’t leave valuables in plain sight.
  6. Invest in a steering wheel lock – particularly those accredited by the police security initiative Secured by Design.
  7. Consider where you park at night. If you can’t park in a locked garage, consider investing in CCTV.
  8. Double check your doors are actually locked when using the remote-locking button on your key, in case thieves are trying to block the signal from your remote.
  9. BMW and Mercedes have added motion sensors to the keys fobs in their latest models and the keys won’t produce any signals when the key isn’t moving, so ensure your fobs are safely stored when at home.

NB: Cars that can be accessed by pressing a button on a fob are classed as a standard remote fob rather than keyless, and are not considered to be vulnerable to relay attacks.

How can Zurich Private Clients help?

For a recent pilot we gave some of our high net worth customers faraday bags to prevent their car key frequencies being picked up from outside their homes. Faraday bags are cleverly designed bags that prevent thieves from copying keys and tricking the car into thinking the key is inside. We hope that by using the faraday bags we can give our high net worth customers greater peace of mind and help prevent crime.

To provide additional peace of mind to our high net worth customers, Zurich is continuously future-proofing our products to cover emerging threats such as cyber theft.

In the event that a car is stolen, our expert handlers will walk customers through the entire claims process, while ensuring that a satisfactory outcome is reached quickly and efficiently.

To find out more about our Zurich Private Clients products, speak to your Account Executive or call us on 0800 302 9080.

Are new cars less vulnerable?

There is some better news for motorists looking to buy a brand new car. From January 2019, additional criteria in the Thatcham’s New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA), aims to make keyless vehicle theft more difficult.

Richard Billyeald, Chief Technical Officer at Thatcham Research, told Which?: “The new criteria will highlight the additional risk of vehicles susceptible to these attacks, and incentivise carmakers to introduce measures that secure their vehicles against electronic compromise.”

Image © Getty

Leave a comment