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March 21, 2019

Thatcham Research updates security ratings to include keyless entry/start

The UK's Thatcham Research has launched security ratings to help consumers better understand the theft risk of new cars against a back drop of rising vehicle thefts. The new ratings assess whether measures to specifically address the keyless entry/start vulnerability, have been adopted.

By Olly Wehring

The UK's Thatcham Research has launched security ratings to help consumers better understand the theft risk of new cars against a back drop of rising vehicle thefts. The new ratings assess whether measures to specifically address the keyless entry/start vulnerability, have been adopted.

Six of the 11 vehicles launched this year have been given a Poor rating as the keyless entry/start system they have as an option has no security measures to prevent theft by criminals using the so-called Relay Attack technique. Without this option, the overall security features were classified as Good.

Chief technical officer Richard Billyeald said: "This initiative focuses on addressing keyless entry/start vulnerability. We've seen too many examples of cars being stolen in seconds from driveways. Now, any vehicle that is assessed against the new security rating, and has a vulnerable keyless entry/start system, will automatically not achieve the best rating.

"Security has come a long way since vehicle crime peaked in the early 1990s. But the layers of security added over the years count for nothing when they can be circumvented instantly by criminals using digital devices. The shame is that most of the cars rated Poor would have achieved at least a Good rating had their keyless entry/start systems not been susceptible to the Relay Attack.

How they rated Audi e-tron; Superior Ford Mondeo; Poor Hyundai Nexo; Poor Jaguar XE; Superior Kia ProCeed; Poor Land Rover Evoque; Superior Lexus UX; Poor Mercedes B-Class; Superior Porsche Macan; Poor Suzuki Jimny (no keyless entry/start standard or optional); Unacceptable Toyota Corolla Hybrid; Poor

Billyeald said: "We are really pleased to see that the latest Audi e-tron, Jaguar XE, Land Rover Evoque and Mercedes B-Class were all awarded Superior.

These carmakers have made significant strides in addressing keyless entry/start vulnerability by either switching either to a more secure wireless technology or introducing key fobs that go to sleep when idle. This demonstrates that there are solutions and fixes to the problem which we expect other manufacturers to include on their future models.

"Our guidance for worried drivers is first and foremost to understand if your vehicle has a keyless entry/start system or not, as it is often an optional extra. If it does, check whether there are solutions available with your key fob – can it be turned off overnight or does it go to sleep when not being used?

"Faraday shielding pouches can be effective but test them first to make sure they do block the signal. Many are designed for credit cards so make sure they still close fully with a set of keys inside, to ensure maximum effectiveness.

"Storing all sets of keys, spares included, away from household entry points is also important as it hampers the criminal's ability to relay the signal.

"And finally, it may in some cases be possible to turn the system off entirely, so it's worth checking with your dealer."

National Police Chiefs Council lead for vehicle crime Graham McNulty said: "Part of the reason for the recent increase in vehicle theft is the rapid development in technology. Whilst this has dramatically improved the experience of drivers it has also allowed criminals to exploit weaknesses in the electronic security.

"The significant reductions in vehicle crime in the 1990s were achieved by police working with manufacturers to design out crime with innovations like immobilisers, alarms and central locking. This approach is as valid today as it was then and we have been working in partnership with the industry by sharing intelligence and equipment seized from criminals.

"Police chiefs fully support the New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA) and the newly announced consumer rating which gives buyers a better understanding of how secure their chosen vehicle is. It's a positive step towards improving vehicle security and will help us cut the levels of crime as manufacturers continue to develop security measures, in what remains a highly competitive industry."

Thatcham Research has been conducting security assessments for insurers on all new and facelifted models launched into the UK since the early 1990s.

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