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From parking sensors to car accessibility/control through applications and everything in between, technology in cars keeps getting better and more advanced.
For a while, the only security threat motorists had when it came to their car keys was them being stolen. Now, thieves don’t even need your keys to get to your vehicle. What does this mean for the future of car safety?
Let’s take a peek into our crystal ball.
In this article:
Learn how modern technology has influenced vehicle safety and how criminals use it for vehicle theft
Understand how fobs, signals, and RFID chips work in wireless key car entry and lock systems
Know how you can protect your fleet against, signal jammers, and any other signal-interfering devices
Understand how the proper fleet management system can help fleet businesses protect their vehicles against signal-based vehicle theft
Effects of technology on vehicle safety
Cars have come a long way since their first inception in 1886, throughout the years, the automotive industry has made a long list of innovations, from the electric window to air conditioning (AC) and similar improvements have been made towards safety features to the modern vehicles we see today.
There is some irony with vehicle technology, as it improves and gets smarter, so have the criminals.
As we have adapted to how technology has influenced the way we live and the way we drive, criminals have also adapted to using technology to their advantage.
Let’s look at some of this technology.
An explanation of vehicle keyless entry
Nowadays, many cars on the road have remote keyless entry (RKE) systems that allow drivers to open, lock and start the car without the key having to leave their pocket or ever having to touch it, so long as the key remote is nearby (also known as a key fob).
A key fob is a tiny handheld remote control used to operate keyless entry systems. When you press the button on your keys, your car responds with a locking/unlocking tone and a flash of lights, all thanks to this tiny piece of technology.
But there’s a lot more to key fob technology than beeps and lights.
Here are a few points to better explain all the tech behind key fobs and how they’re used today:
A fob is simply a remote controller inside your keys that has an RFID chip and an antenna inside that uses radio frequencies to communicate with other RFID tags inside a specific reader device.
Whenever you press the buttons on your keys, the fob responds by transmitting an RFID signal to the reader device. In this situation, your car is the reader device, as it reads the received signal from the key fob and responds as programmed.
Each key fob chip is designed to transmit signals or specific RFID tag information that matches what the reader device has been programmed to accept. So, if the information from the key fob matches what your vehicle is programmed to accept, then the system will respond by unlocking your car door, trunk and other requests it is programmed to react to.
RFID key fobs are highly versatile and can be programmed to transmit several different commands other than just “open” or “close”. Most automotive key fob units have multiple functions assigned to different buttons. This is why your vehicle keys often have more than just two buttons, the other buttons can be customised to open the boot or even used as a security button.
Key fobs are mostly used in remote keyless entry systems, so the same information above can be said about other key remote processes like gates, doors, house alarm systems, and more.
Vehicle theft on the road
As it turns out, wireless keys are seemingly easy to hack.
The days of cutting wires and sparking them together to jump-start your car are behind us. Now, thieves can steal your vehicles using just laptops and signals.
Every 22 minutes, a car is stolen in South Africa as a result of a steady increase in hijacking every year, some of those vehicles have a keyless entry system. According to the South African Insurance Crime Bureau (SAICB), in 2022, keyless ignition and entry technology vehicles (among others) were more likely to be stolen than previous models.
To successfully bypass factory alarm systems and steal your vehicle, criminals use the same tech motorists use to keep their car safe, the key. They intercept signals from the unprotected key fob to unlock a vehicle.
It's worth noting that signals easily pass through doors, windows, and even walls, so physical barriers aren’t a problem for thieves. We want to take a deeper look into how this is done and, more importantly, find out what we can do to prevent this from happening to you.
How does key hacking work?
So, you’ve arrived at a mall, parked your car, pressed the lock button on your keys, checked the doors to make sure they were locked and walked away pretty sure that your car is all safe and sound.
But what you didn’t notice is that some car thieves were lurking nearby armed with technology to help them gain access to your car, and just like that, the signals that passed from your key to the car were intercepted or copied.
Different types of technologies used to steal vehicles
Relay attacks - A type of car theft that uses relay technology to intercept key signals and transfer them to a portable device. When used, your car will ‘recognise’ the copied signals and simply unlock.
Brute force attacks - A trial-and-error method is used to guess the correct login info, find hidden web pages, or, in this case, decrypt keys. Using rolling-code broadcast technology, they can gain entry by approaching the vehicle with a laptop and a broadcast module that can put every code in to find the right one and remotely unlock the doors. Several minutes are all they need to find the right code or frequencies.
In most cases where trucks are stolen, their tracking signal disappears and can’t be retrieved until it's too late. For a clean escape, thieves often block the signals from the vehicles and easily steal them by using either GSM or GPS jamming devices.
Signal jammers - This is an electronic device that sends out radio signals (or noise) that prevent telematics devices (GPS units) from communicating and make it difficult for the receiver to get accurate vehicle location information. This leaves thieves free to hijack the vehicle without worrying about help coming. It gives the thieves a head start to remove the tracking unit, program a new key and disappear with your vehicle before you know it.
With signal jammers, fleet monitoring through vehicle tracking is not possible and managers won’t be able to pinpoint their vehicle’s location and retrieve it or send help.
While you think delivery is going according to schedule and your vehicles are safe and sound, criminals can simply use these illegal methods to open your vehicle, take cargo goods, and/or steal the vehicle entirely.
Although the use or ownership of signal jamming devices for mobile or vehicle interception, is illegal in South Africa, according to ICASA, this doesn't stop criminals from finding and using these devices.
Vehicle safety risks and theft according to industries
Since fleets are the driving force that connects businesses to customers, keeping drivers, vehicles and cargo safe while on the road is a critical investment many businesses make.
Every industry that uses vehicles for transportation or to carry out its services has vehicle safety at the top of its priority list. Business-based vehicles that are left parked within the company’s building/site are left unused until managers assign drivers to them. In this situation, safety check-ups are conducted in-house with low safety risks, resulting in decreased vehicle theft.
However, some companies allow their employees to use company vehicles on their daily commute; these drivers will take the vehicle home after hours and return to work the next day. The problem with this is that the business has no way of really controlling how and where those vehicles are driven, which increases the opportunity for vehicle theft.
Here are a few industries that might be at risk of vehicle theft and might fall victim to signal-based vehicle theft attempts:
Vehicle leasing – Companies like Avis or Alamo allow normal civilians to rent out business cars and use them for whatever reason, and other businesses that don't own a fleet rent out several vehicles and pay a monthly subscription. Although used differently, both customers can pose a risk to the vehicle's safety as they can drive and park the vehicles in unsafe locations, increasing the risk of possible vehicle theft. Without safety measures in place and rules for the customers to follow while using the rented vehicles, vehicles can end up damaged or stolen.
E-hailing vehicles - These are businesses that provide public transport services through an electronic application like Uber or Lyft. These are vehicles that are owned by the drivers that operate them and are used for business purposes. These cars can be at risk as they are parked in normal garages and not in a secured business building/parking lot. Drivers can travel throughout an area, whether safe or not and pick up customers at random (sometimes unsafe) locations at any time of the day or night.
Logistics and transporting - Vehicles owned by companies are used by employed drivers to transport inventory (depending on the business) throughout a company's supply chain from one location to another. These fleets are targeted and hijacked because of the valuable cargo they are transporting.
Remain one step ahead with these anti-theft solutions for vehicles
While criminals have invented various methods that pose huge security risks to your vehicle, there are some DIY solutions you can apply to protect it:
Wrap your keys in foil. Seriously, aluminium can decrease the strength of signals and the range of your fob, successfully blocking cell phone signals and some radio waves. So wrapping your keys in this household item will act as a barrier and ensure that the signal is not transmitted in a relay attack.
Buy yourself a steering wheel claw. This device is a visible anti-theft safety measure that hooks onto your steering wheel to make it difficult or impossible for thieves to drive off with your car.
Install a kill switch for your car, this is an aggressive measure sometimes called a "dead man's switch" because it can automatically shut down the vehicle or machine by disconnecting parts of your car to prevent your car from starting. Kill switches can be installed on the battery, ignition and even the fuel line.
If you want something a lot more reliable and trustworthy, simply get yourself a Cartrack vehicle tracking unit that gives you reliable tracking technology, dedicated 24/7 control room agents and stolen vehicle recovery services.
Cartrack has a variety of world-class stolen vehicle recovery packages and safety solutions designed to give you peace of mind.
Industry-leading safety features from Cartrack
Whether it’s a brand-new vehicle or one that you’ve had for years, installing your ride with Cartrack’s tracking unit will make the difference between having to start from scratch if your vehicle gets stolen and getting your vehicle back in record time with Cartrack’s stolen vehicle recovery services.
With all the various methods criminals use to steal vehicles, one has to wonder how Cartrack protects against signal-based vehicle theft attempts.
When a thief uses a jamming device to block communication between the tracking system and the cellular network, Cartrack can switch the tracking unit to RF (radio frequency), which allows for continuous communication with the vehicle. With this, the tracking unit can continually provide an accurate location, increasing the likelihood of your vehicle being found and recovered.
Cartrack offers a wide variety of features to safeguard your vehicles from unforeseen events like hijackings:
SVR (Stolen Vehicle Recovery) – Customers receive immediate assistance if their vehicle gets stolen. After it’s stolen and you inform Cartrack of the event, Cartrack’s on-the-ground and air recovery teams will be dispatched and immediately start searching for your vehicle. Our services and SVR rate of over 90% are trusted by over 1.6 million customers.
Geofencing – Cartrack customers can set virtual boundaries around any area to receive a notification whenever their vehicle enters or exits these areas. This feature can be used to set no-go zones to avoid driving through dangerous areas or set safe areas such as your home or office so that when your vehicle is being driven by someone else, you will be notified when it's arrived in a safe place.
CarWatch – This is like your personal digital car guard. When activated via an app, it keeps an eye on your parked vehicle and alerts you the moment it moves without your authorisation.
Driver ID tags – Each driver is given a tag that contains all their personal information. Drivers need to tap on a sensor inside the vehicle in order to start the vehicle. If drivers use vehicles they are unauthorised to use or try to operate a vehicle outside working hours, an alert will be sent to the platform, ensuring no unauthorised vehicle activity can take place.
Start Prevent - This feature is another way you can reduce unauthorised driving of vehicles and combat vehicle theft. It gives customers the ability to disable the vehicle’s ignition on demand, gradually bringing the vehicle to a halt and leaving the criminals stranded with an immovable vehicle. This results in criminals fleeing and abandoning the vehicle, making it easier to find and retrieve.
Asset tracking – Know exactly where your equipment and assets are with a tracking unit that can easily be attached to most movable assets. This assists with on-site asset utilisation and effectively reduces equipment theft or loss by fast-tracking assets and sending alarm notifications to managers at a moment's notice for possible theft attempts.
If personal safety is what you're looking for, Cartrack has safety features to assist you in your time of need, such as:
Panic button – This is a button installed in your vehicle that can be used in emergencies, like a robbery or sudden medical situation. When mobile communication cannot be used, the button sends a silent distress alert to Cartrack’s 24/7 control room, where an operator will send for emergency assistance.
Protector – Customers in need of any roadside assistance can open the Cartrack app and with a push of a button they will have access to a call centre agent who can send them assistance if they need their car towed, are in an accident, need to change a tyre, or have run out of fuel.
In the unfortunate event that your car gets stolen, Cartrack provides the necessary services to locate and recover your vehicle.
The future of trusted vehicle safety
Install your entire fleet or personal vehicle with an advanced vehicle tracking device from Cartrack. With our above 90% recovery rate, this trusted device will give you complete control over your vehicles, increase your fleet visibility, and help you protect your valuable assets with industry-leading safety features.
Visit Cartrack or contact us today to increase fleet safety and reduce vehicle theft.
Cartrack offers advanced vehicle technology, from wireless key locking to proximity sensors, that can transform how you secure your car and enhance safety.