CARS.COM — Hearing auto-theft analysts describe so-called mystery devices for hacking into cars in recent years has been a little like watching characters in a Cold War spy movie chase down a stolen top-secret weapon, uttering some version of the line, “If this thing falls into the wrong hands…” Only now, according to a just-released report on these advanced remote car-theft gadgets by the Illinois-based National Insurance Crime Bureau, that’s precisely what has happened.
Purportedly developed and sold by legitimate European manufacturers (unnamed in the report) to allow automakers to test the security vulnerabilities of their own vehicles, these “relay attack units” evidently have been acquired — and used — by American car thieves. NICB investigators recently got their hands on one of the devices through a third-party security expert and reportedly were able to unlock, start and drive away in more than half the vehicles on which they made attempts.
NICB investigators were able to unlock 19 of the 35 different makes and models they tested, and start and drive away in 18 of them. Moreover, after turning off the engine in the cars investigators were able to drive away in, they were able to use the device to later restart a dozen of them without the original key fob present.