New ‘sleep mode’ fights keyless car thieves, but it isn’t foolproof

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

A new batch of Consumer Security Ratings has been announced by car security experts, Thatcham. They reveal the latest cars to incorporate technology to fight keyless thieves.

Six new models have gained ‘superior’ ratings. These are the Audi A6 Allroad, BMW 1 Series, BMW 8 Series, BMW X6, Ford Puma and Volkswagen Passat.

The Audi, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen all improve their security rating by being available with ‘sleeping’ motion-sensitive key fobs.

What is a ‘sleeping’ car key fob?

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

A ‘sleeping’ key fob only activates when it senses movement. Previously, keys constantly emitted a signal, allowing hackers to ‘hijack’ this to unlock and start cars. A ‘sleeping key’ left in your house shouldn’t fall prey to hackers.

“The models rated from Audi, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen not only have strong all-round security but have also made motion sensor enabled fobs available as standard when buyers opt for keyless entry and start,” said Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research.

“It’s positive news for consumers that carmakers, in increasing measure, are making this fix available.”

‘A fundamental security flaw remains’

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

However, what isn’t known is exactly how long it takes a key you’ve put down to go into ‘sleep mode’.

“We advise consumers to check how long it takes before the sleep mode on their keyless fob is engaged. Some fobs go to sleep in one or two minutes, others in 15 or even as long as 30 minutes.”

For those without fobs that have this update, or if you’re still worried, there are a number of other options. A ‘Faraday pouch’ has a similar effect, making sure the signal can’t get out.

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

While this ‘fix’ is rolling out now, there are a lot of cars still at risk. Even the sleeping key is described as more of a short-term fix, given the time it takes to enter ‘sleep mode’.

“The motion sensor fob is a good short-term option,” said Billyeald, “but the goal for carmakers must be to design out the vulnerability entirely. Until then, a fundamental security flaw remains.”

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