MOTORISTS have been warned that criminals can now buy cheap devices online that easily unlock cars in 90 seconds.
Car thieves are using Bluetooth speakers and mobile phones to hide devices that connect to the electronic system in cars.
Hackers can buy the products online for just over £1,000 but with them steal luxury vehicles worth tens of thousands.
They are able to expose parts of the car from the outside that connect these devices to the car's central nervous system.
Then it will communicate with the motor's engine, transmission and brakes – making it possible to steal within 90 seconds.
Ken Munro, of Pen Test Partners, a security firm, told The Times that manufacturers were shocked at the ease with which cars were being stolen.
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He said: “I think they underestimated the ability of technologists to weaponise these attacks.
“Typically, each vehicle brand will have a different flavour network on the car. Not massively different, but a little with different components on the cars that talk in slightly different ways.
“So each attack has to be customised to the particular vehicle. What we are seeing is that someone finds a weakness in x brand and x vehicle, recognised it, ‘productised’ it and then sold it.
"Then all of a sudden you see a spike in thefts of a particular type of vehicle.”
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Websites sell devices for various makes and models, costing from £1,300 to over £5,000.
Sources at car insurance companies backed up these points and said the devices posed a significant threat to vehicle safety.
One source said: “The new generation of theft devices have evolved from the well-known relay devices.
“Thieves are now accessing vehicles via the electronic components in the front of the car without the need of a key or key signal, using well disguised devices that look like well-known electronic items.
The source added that the upwards trend in thefts is becoming most common in London, particularly with Lexus models.
Alex Borgnis, the underwriting director of LV General Insurance, added: “We’re seeing a continued rise in car theft and unfortunately this is likely to worsen given the economic challenges we’re facing, the cost of living crisis and vehicle supply chain issues.
“Both car parts and vehicles themselves are in extremely high demand and it’s likely these are being shipped abroad or sold in the UK to make a profit. I’d encourage drivers to think about steps they can take to mitigate the risks."
He advised motorists to use a steering wheel lock or wheel clamp as a simple and effective way to prevent your car being stolen.
Ian Tabor, from London, woke up to to find his Toyota stolen, he said: “The first time I found my bumper hanging off, but it was on the curbside, so I knew no one had crashed into it.
"A few months later I came out and someone had been tinkering with the front of the car again. Then in July, I woke up one morning and the bumper was off again.”
His neighbour's car was also stolen the following day.
“The fact is that criminals can by the devices off the internet for a couple of thousand pounds and then steal cars worth £40,000," he continued.
“The best way to protect your car is to use a steering lock, one of the old fashion dustbin lid kind. That’s the only way to make your vehicle secure against this type of theft," he added.
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A spokesman for Toyota and Lexus said: “We have been monitoring keyless means of theft for some time now, alongside our industry colleagues.
"Unfortunately, while in general vehicle related crime has subsided in recent years, criminals haven’t stopped committing crimes.”
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