WASHINGTON – Dec. 13, 2016 – A national watchdog group identified a device that lets thieves steal cars that use key fobs.
The device, which allows a person to open car doors, start vehicles and drive them away, suggests the auto industry is entering a perilous frontier in which tech-savvy criminals can bypass the keyless theft-prevention countermeasures installed on certain recent models.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) said it purchased the device "via a third-party security expert from an overseas company" that developed it "to provide manufacturers and other anti-theft organizations the ability to test the vulnerability of various vehicles' systems."
The so-called Relay Attack device demonstrates how thieves recently stole vehicles that were supposed to be extremely difficult to swipe.
The boxy device, about the size of a smartphone, is used to capture a signal from a nearby key fob before using the signal to gain entry illegally.
The NICB said it tested the device on used cars at participating dealerships, an auto auction, employee vehicles and other cars.
In 19 of its 35 tests, the device opened the vehicle. In 18 of those 19 entries, it was able to start the vehicle and drive away.
In other words, more than 50 percent of the time, the device allowed the would-be perpetrator to steal the vehicle.
"We've now seen for ourselves that these devices work," NICB CEO Joe Wehrle said 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. And the scary part is that there's no warning or explanation for the owner."
The NICB said thieves use several varieties of wireless theft devices.
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