Thieves could be using a new technology to break into and drive away with vehicles that have push-button ignitions without a trace of evidence, and there might not be much that potential victims can do to prevent it.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau today said it obtained and tested a so-called “mystery device” that can allow a thief to break into a vehicle without leaving behind any of the traditional pieces of evidence such as broken glass.
The device, which comes in two pieces, works by picking up a signal from the vehicle’s key fob from a distance of up to 10 feet. Once the signal is received, the device transfers the data to a smaller “relay box” that can be used to unlock and start the vehicle.
NICB spokesman Roger Morris said the bureau, working with used-car retailer CarMax, tested the device on 35 makes and models at various locations, including new- and used-car dealerships, in the Chicago area over a two-week period. He said the NICB was able to open 19 of the vehicles and was able to drive away in 18.
Combating these devices could prove to be the latest battle between automakers and criminals in the modern era. Concerns over hacking and other cyber security issues have gained prominence in recent years as vehicles become more connected.
Morris said it is impossible to know how many vehicles might have been stolen using these devices because no evidence is left behind. He said owners and law enforcement are often unaware of such technology existing, though the NICB first noted a rise in the use of such technology in 2014.
The “scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner,” NICB CEO Joe Wehrle said in a statement. “Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”
Wade Newton, the spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said cyber security continues to be one of the “top priorities” for the auto industry.
“Some automakers may include a series of redundant systems and mechanisms as one approach to enhancing vehicle safety,” Newton said in an emailed statement. “Our initial understanding of this particular tool is that it is a high-technology device similar to the old-fashioned threat of a lock pick or ‘slim jim.’
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