The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has gotten hold of a “mystery device” that thieves have been spotted on security cameras using to electronically open and start cars.
The organization says that it obtained it through an outside security expert who purchased it overseas. It describes it as a “relay attack” unit that was originally designed for manufacturers to test the security of their wireless systems, but it and others like it have made their way into criminal hands, and handmade versions have also been discovered.
It is actually two devices working together. The first intercepts the signal from a nearby proximity key fob, either being carried by someone or left in a car, and transfers it to the other, which can then be used to open the lock and start the vehicle.
The NICB tested it, with approval, in several situations that included car dealerships, a car auction and on its own employee’s vehicles. It tried it on 35 different vehicles from a variety of brands and was able to open 19 and start and drive away in 18 of those. After the ignitions were turned off, the device was able to restart 12 of the 18 cars. It didn’t provide a detailed list of makes and models that were affected by the device, but did point out that the four 2017 Chevrolet models it tried were immune.
Since it leaves no trace of the method of entry or ignition, the NICB is warning drivers to be wary of anyone around when using these types of keys, and not leaving them behind in the car. It also points out that if you give access to your key fob to someone, including a parking valet, they can potentially use a unit like this to skim the codes and then enter or steal the car later on.