New cars stolen using smart key signal relay attack


This Tuesday night the next BMW X5 got stolen from near a home in Laagri, Harju County. Over these past few weeks, three pricey cars have been stolen in Southern Estonia with total value exceeding €100,000. The police suspects an international organised grouping – probably, auto thieves from Latvia or Lithuania.

At end of October, car thieves from Lithuania were apprehended by the police. While investigating their tools, their eyes fell upon a gadget they nicknamed a «bowl». This is a device that amplifies the signal of an electronic car key so as to open the doors of a vehicle hundreds of metres off in the parking lot opens its doors and starts the engine. As you read this story, a bowl like this is being studied by experts in Tartu, Estonia. The devices are obtained on the black market or over the web where at one site above €9,000 is asked for the thing.

Another example. An individual goes home and leaves the car keys close to the door, on a shelf or in coat pocket. «This the crooks know very well. They place the «bowl» i.e. the device seeking the radio signals behind the individual’s front door and the «bowl» finds out the smartkey signal. The smartkey send signals to about a metre and a half,» said Toomas Jervson of Northern police prefecture

Mr Jervson says the solution for dear wheels owners is simple: if you have a smartkey, add an extra immobiliser. It may costs hundreds of euros, though.

What prevents thieves from relaying also the immobiliser’s signal? There are some immobilisers that try to regularly ping the token and cut the engine if the signal is lost. However, because of driving safety reasons this feature is illegal by EU law.


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