Carjackers Use “Mystery Device” To Steal Vehicles With Start Button Ignition

It appears that you don’t have to own a Tesla, or a similarly highly automated vehicle, to fall victim to hackers: if your vehicle has a start-stop button for the engine ignition, you could be just as vulnerable.

According to Autonews, the National Insurance Crime Bureau announced that obtained a so-called “mystery device” that allows car thieves to break into such vehicles easily.

The device comes in two parts; the first one picks up the signal from the key fob, when the driver is locking the car, from a distance up to 10 feet, and then transmits it to a “relay box” that is used to unlock the car and start up the engine.

The NCIB, in association with used-car retailer CarMax. tested this “mystery device” on 35 makes and models in the Chicago area over a two-week period. Spokesman Roger Morris said that they were able to open 19 of said vehicles and drive away in 18 of them.

“It’s a matter of tug of war between manufacturers and thieves”, said Morris, who advised owners to not leave any valuables inside their cars, keep their key fobs with them at all times, park in crowded places when possible and pay attention to their surroundings for anything unusual.

Even so, he conceded that there’s no fool-proof way to secure vehicles against such devices. The NCIB stated that it acquired this particular item via a third-party security expert from an overseas company that provides manufacturers the ability to test their vehicles’ vulnerability. However, as Morris acknowledged, carjackers can certainly find other sources, or, if they possess the required skills, build their own.

In April, Germany’s ADAC showcased a similar issue that affected vehicles with keyless entry systems. Perhaps it’s time automakers and their suppliers upped their game in the security stakes.

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