Thiefs Can Probably Steal Cars With Keyless Entry and Start In Less Than A Minute

The National Insurance Crime Bureau released the data for the most stolen cars in the U.S. in 2017. While the number of thefts saw a rise of 1 percent over 2016, capping at 773,139 motor vehicle thefts across the country, the likelihood of car theft is far higher in some areas than in others. More interesting than that is the fact that the Nissan Altima become the most-stolen new car. Still, topping the charts of the most-stolen vehicles in the U.S. are the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Ford pick-up trucks, and Chevy pick-up trucks.

Why Is the Nissan Altima Being Stolen So Much?

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It is a hard question to answer, but let’s try to think like a thief. If you steal a car you can, pretty much, do two things with it - drive it to an illegal chop shop, dismantle it, and sell its parts or you can export it to someone who will use the VIN from the same year, make, and model to make it road worthy and "legal." Sure, you can go for a joy ride (people are doing this for real) or commit some other kind of criminal activity with it and discard it. However, the bulk of stolen cars do fit into one of the two previous categories. This limits the options for theft because of the simple economic model of supply and demand. To put it simply, ask yourself is there any reason for anyone to steal a French car in Arkansas (or anywhere) if no one really has any use of it.

And, now we come to the Nissan Altima.

There's enough of them on the streets to provoke thief interest.

More importantly, it is not like people expect that someone is going to lift an Altima. Well, last year, thieves stole 13.358 Altima’s in the U.S. That’s a 9 percent increase. Granted, not all of them were new, but still.

So, the Altima is hot! Plus, it seems that thieves can "hack" its keyless lock and keyless ignition system in a rather smart and simple way.

How Do Thieves Steal A Car With a Keyless Lock and Ignition?

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According to the FBI, thieves use a smart "mystery device." They also call it "Relay Attack."

“We’ve now seen for ourselves that these devices work,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Maybe they don’t work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease. And the scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner. Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”

The mystery device term is vague, so I've done a bit of research and found out that there's nothing mysterious about it. It is clever stuff tough.
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See, the mystery device is usually a relay amplifier and a transmitter that thieves bring to the soon-to-be a crime scene. Then, one with the amplifier goes near the house doors in hope to detect a car keyfob. If the amplifier detects the keyfob, it also amplifies its signal and transmits it to the transmitter.

Considering that the transmitter is close to the car (in the hands of the second criminal), the car thinks that the keyfob is near.

It automatically unlocks the doors. It is straightforward from there with the thieves needing to do nothing more than to start the engine with the push to Start button after getting in.

“Vehicles are a valuable commodity and thieves will continue to wage a tug of war with the manufacturers to find a way to steal them,” said Jim Schweitzer, NICB COO. “Anti-theft technology has been a major factor in reducing the number of thefts over the past 25 years. The manufacturers have made tremendous strides with their technology, but now they have to adapt and develop countermeasures as threats like this surface.”

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The most concerning factor about all of this is the fact that some eBay or Amazon users sold the "Relay Attack" or "Mystery Device," err, devices for $600 to $700 bucks. Yeah, you can really get one in a matter of days if you have the extra cash laying around. I suspect that thieves after the Nissan Altima use similar tech.

German automotive club ADAC tested the devices and found out that they can "trick" keyless sensor tech into thinking that the keyfob is near the car. ADAC managed to unlock cars from 30 different manufacturers.

This is the list of all cars ADAC managed to trick with the devices:

Alfa Romeo Giulia
Audi A3, A4, A4 Avant, A5, A6, A6 All Road, R8, SQ7, TTS
BMW 225xe, 318i, 318d, 520d, 640d, 730d, 740, 740d, i3, i3 94 Ah (7/2016), i3 94 Ah (5/2016), X1, X1 SDrive 18d
Citroen DS4 CrossBack, C3 Pure Tech, C4 Picasso, C4 Picasso HDI, Spacetourer
Fiat 124 Spider
Ford Eco-Sport, Edge, Focus RS, Galaxy, Mustang, S-Max
Honda HR-V
Hyundai i10, i30, i30 1.4 T-GDI, iX35 Fuel Cell, i40, Santa Fe
Infiniti Q30
Jaguar F-Pace
Kia Niro Hybrid, Optima (11/2015), Optima (8/2016), Optima Plugin-Hybrid
Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Evoque
Lexus RX 450h
Mazda 3 Skyactive, CX-5
Mercedes E 220d, E 220d T-Modell
Mini Clubman, Cooper S Cabrio
Mitsubishi Outlander (5/2016), Outlander (12/2016), Space Star
Nissan Leaf, Navara, Qashqai, Qashqia+2
Opel Ampera, Astra
Peugeot 508 W, 3008
Renault Captur, Clio, Kadjar, Megane, Megane Grandtour, Scenic, Talisman, Talisman Grandtour, Traffic
Seat Ateca
Skoda Kodiaq, Octavia (12/2015), Octavia (2/2016), Superb 1,6TDi
Ssangyong Tivoli XDi
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross, Baleno, Vitara
Subaru Levorg
Tesla Model S P85
Toyota C-HR 1.8 Hybrid, Mirai, Prius, Prius 1.8 Hybrid, RAV4, Verso
Volvo V40, S90, S90 D5, V90 D5, XC90 T8
Volkswagen Golf 7 TSI, Golf 7 GTD (10/2013), Golf 7 GTD (12/2016), Passat GTE, Tiguan (3/2016), Tiguan (7/2016), Touran 5T

Where Your Car is Most Likely To Be Stolen?

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The highest rate of stolen cars per capita is in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

There, the vehicle theft rate is at 1096.8 per 100,000 residents. Far behind Albuquerque is Anchorage, Alaska as the second, and Pueblo, Colorado as the third place where your car is most likely to be stolen.

Unlike Albuquerque (or any other place for that matter), thieves aren’t exactly interested in stealing cars in Manchester in New Hampshire. Vehicle theft rate in New Hampshire is at 62.7 cars per 100,000 residents. The lowest in the country.

How To Protect Your Car?

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To learn how to protect a car, once again we need to enter the mind of a criminal. A criminal wants to be on the move immediately after entering the vehicle. Your job, then, is to make starting a car as complicated and time-consuming as possible.

First of all, take your key with you and never left it in the cabin.

After all, thieves stole more than 60,000 cars in 2017 by starting the car with a keyfob they found in the car. I know, crazy!

The next thing you can do is park in a well-lit area, close all the windows and roof openings, and LOCK the doors. I know that reading this may sound crazy, but the numbers never lie - you people leave your cars unattended with keys inside and lowered windows.

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This may not deter a thief from stealing the car, but if you add a steering wheel lock, then you are onto something. Yes, it is possible to lift a vehicle after removing steering lock, but it will take more time for the thief, and that’s crucial. If you are still unsure, install a GPS tracking device (helps a bunch when police search for a vehicle), and put your keyfob in an improvised Faraday container (if your car has keyless entry and keyless start system). With the keyfob in a Faraday cage, those devices from eBay and Amazon will not work.

This Is How To Make A Car Theft-Proof

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I feel that the most advanced anti-theft device is a so-called kill switch. It is a switch that disrupts the flow of electricity to the critical systems that need to work to start the engine. Basically, no one will be able to start the car without hitting that switch first. If you hide it well in the cabin, no thief will spend time searching for it. Still uneasy about the possibility of car theft? Then install three kill switches, hide them throughout the cabin, and create a particular order to turn them on to start the engine. Now, that’s a password no one will manage to hack.

Further reading

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Read our full review on the 2019 Nissan Altima.

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