3rd January 2018
Readily obtainable vehicle theft kits pose an added concern for private and business motorists
With Christmas fresh in our minds, we set about identifying what could be bought for £2,600. Some brief Googling pinpointed a healthy range of 65-inch 4K smart TVs to choose from, one of the more modestly-priced dresses from designer Tom Ford’s fashion range, or an Eastern Europe river cruise from a leading tour operator.
Why were we searching for possible gifts each worth around £2,600? It felt apt to conduct a brief comparison because renowned vehicle crime consultant, writer and journalist Dr Ken German has brought something rather concerning to the world’s attention that can be obtained for the same price.
“Complete ‘Steal a Mercedes van’ kit now available on the internet for only £2600!”, he posted on Linkedin shortly before Christmas1, highlighting that the contents of the kit would allow someone to steal a Mercedes Sprinter, Viano or Vito van in a relatively straightforward manner. The kit he posted an image of online includes devices for capturing a vehicle’s electronic key from its ignition and for programming new keys. Instructions are even provided.
Originally obtained via the ‘dark web’ in the main, car key kits like these, along with the relay transmitter devices we highlighted recently on our blog, can now be purchased far too easily, as proven by industry security body Thatcham2.
Just about anyone can advertise virtually anything for sale on the ‘marketplace’ platforms run by many global internet brands3, but with more sizeable teams, budgets and technologies at their disposal, such sites surely have the advantage over smaller retailers in tackling high-tech vehicle theft.
Dr German states that “the sale of these licence-to-steal kits to the general public has to stop now” and we wholeheartedly agree. We were able to quickly find several similar kits being sold by a wide range of often quite professional-looking websites including many genuine automotive parts and accessories retailers.
Access to hardware such as the ‘MB KEY PROG 2 EVO’ device and the ‘MB Magic Eraser’ used for resetting a vehicle’s ECU, along with software for “all keys lost” scenarios, should all be legally obtainable only by automotive professionals such as dealerships and independent specialist garages.
While such a move would no doubt anger many car enthusiasts who frequent marque-dedicated forums and relish undertaking vehicle repairs and modifications, it would unarguably help prevent such technology falling into the wrong hands.
Voices such as Motoring Research4 are right when they point to the convenience of keyless vehicle entry having somewhat come back to bite OEMs and consumers, leaving their vehicles exposed. Private motorists, vehicle rental firms and fleets have enough decisions to make at a time when fuel choice is being keenly debated, so having to face added vehicle security risks is unpalatable.
With an abundance of popular models found to be at risk from relay theft5 and with security vulnerabilities6 having been identified in certain cars’ infotainment apps, manufacturers also need to step up efforts in thwarting increasingly advanced criminal activity, including theft kits like these.
Police forces are understandably stretched so it’s imperative that private and business drivers do all they can to deter hacks or other forms of vehicle theft. Old-fashioned methods are effective, from using steering wheel locks or wheel clamps to installing gates on driveways, with some insurers reportedly offering reduced premiums to motorists adopting such simple measures7. Signal-blocking ‘Faraday pouches’ are promoted to keep vehicle keys safe, while storing keys away from doors and windows is another sensible step8, along with being careful where to park and who to trust with the keys, perhaps thinking twice at certain hand car wash sites or with mobile mechanics9.
While highly advanced car theft kits like the one Dr German highlighted are more difficult to guard against, many rental and other fleets have found vehicle tracking solutions highly advantageous in ensuring that any stolen cars or vans can be recovered swiftly.
Through a combination of human sensibility, more robust security efforts from manufacturers, the introduction of appropriate legislation, plus decisive action taken by online retailers and ISPs, it’s hoped that such vehicle ‘theft kits’ can be eradicated.
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