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Latest Consumer Security Rating issued: Carmakers introduce sleeping fobs to frustrate keyless thieves

Press release   •   Nov 06, 2019 00:01 GMT

Image: How the Relay Attack works
  • Six new models tested in latest Thatcham Research car security assessments
  • All pass Relay Attack test, gain Superior ratings
  • Keyless vulnerability problem still requires long term solution, warns Thatcham Research

Six new cars have been assessed by independent automotive research centre Thatcham Research in its latest Consumer Security Rating release, and all have achieved the top ‘Superior’ rating.

The Audi A6 Allroad, BMW 1 Series, BMW 8 Series and BMW X6, along with the Ford Puma and Volkswagen Passat gain ‘Superior’ ratings for all-round security and the presence of a Relay Attack fix.

More carmakers move with fixes

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer, Thatcham Research comments, “The models rated from Audi, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen not only have strong all-round security but have also made motion sensor enabled fobs available as standard when buyers opt for keyless entry and start. It’s positive news for consumers that carmakers, in increasing measure, are making this fix available.”

“The motion sensor fob is a good short-term option,” adds Billyeald, “but the goal for carmakers must be to design out the vulnerability entirely. Until then, a fundamental security flaw remains.”

Motion sensors inside the fob detect when it has been stationary for a period and trigger a sleep mode. This means the fob will no longer respond to attempts to relay its signal. Full functionality is restored when the owner moves the key.

“We advise consumers to check how long it takes before the sleep mode on their keyless fob is engaged,” continues Billyeald. “Some fobs go to sleep in one or two minutes, others in 15 or even as long as 30 minutes.”

Efforts to cut keyless crime must continue

“Many owners who opted for keyless entry and start will have done so before a motion sensor fob was issued or will own a car where a fob of this type is not available at all,” said Billyeald.

If a motion sensor fob is not available drivers should:

  • Consider purchasing a Faraday pouch and using it to store their fob at night. Owners are advised to test that it works for themselves
  • Check the driver’s manual to see if the fob can be switched off completely
  • Store fobs, spares included, away from household entry points

“We urge manufacturers to bring keyless technology to market in secure form and remove from drivers the onus to provide additional security. Closer collaboration on the design and implementation of new technologies is the key to identifying vulnerabilities before they entrench in the vehicle parc,” Billyeald comments.

November’s ratings

Vehicle Rating*
Audi A6 Allroad SUPERIOR
BMW 1 Series SUPERIOR
BMW 8 Series SUPERIOR
BMW X6 SUPERIOR
Ford Puma SUPERIOR
Volkswagen Passat SUPERIOR

*Thatcham Research tested one model with keyless entry and start fitted. This may be an optional feature on some or all models.

The story so far

This is the third set of Consumer Security Ratings launched in 2019. Security engineers from Thatcham Research conduct a Relay Attack test on the vehicle’s keyless entry and start system, while confirming that other security features meet minimum insurer requirements, including certified immobiliser, alarm and double locking systems.

To date, 24 vehicles have been assessed, with nine down-rated to ‘Poor’ having failed Relay Attack testing. ‘Superior’ ratings for all-round security and for having a fix to the keyless vulnerability in place have been awarded to 14 cars. Only one car, the Suzuki Jimny, has been downrated as a result of all-round security failings, despite not having a keyless entry and start system.

For more information please visit: https://www.thatcham.org/what-we-do/security/consumer-rating/

Thatcham Research is the independent voice of automotive safety, security & repair, advising motorists, insurers and vehicle manufacturers to help reduce accident frequency, severity and costs and to realise the vision of ‘Safer cars, fewer crashes’, while driving standards in vehicle security.

As well as its world leading crash and track research, Thatcham Research develops repair methods amongst a number of other products and services within the collision repair industry for insurers, motor manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and suppliers.

In addition, Thatcham Research has administered the Association of British Insurer’s (ABI) Group Rating system for the past 50 years. Group Rating is an advisory system intended to provide insurers with the relative risk of private cars and light commercial vehicles.

A founder member of the international Research Council for Automobile Repairs (RCAR), Thatcham Research has also been a member of the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) since 2004.