New security ratings help fleets to identify cars least likely to be stolen

New car security tests that provide fleet operators and company car drivers with information to help understand their likely theft risk have been launched by Thatcham Research, the motor insurance industry research centre.

However, six of the first 11 new cars tested have been rated ‘poor’ for security – the Ford Mondeo, Hyundai Nexo, Kia ProCeed, Lexus UX, Porsche Macan and Toyota Corolla Hybrid as the keyless entry/start system they each have as an option has no security measures to prevent theft by criminals using the so-called ‘relay attack’ technique.

The Audi e-tron, Jaguar XE, Land Rover Evoque and Mercedes-Benz B-Class each received a ‘superior’ rating, while the Suzuki Jimny was given an ‘unacceptable’ rating notably because it does not have keyless entry/start system as standard or as an option. The five rating system means that new cars could also be rated ‘good’ or ‘basic’ for their security.

The security ratings – further new cars will be tested as they enter UK showrooms – have been launched against a rising tide of vehicle theft, up by 16% in 2017/18 in England and Wales, according to the latest Government figures. The surge in vehicle crime has led to insurers paying out a record £1 million every day, according to figures published by the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

The rise in vehicle theft is largely blamed on the adoption of keyless theft – also known as relay attack – which has become a popular modus operandi for thieves in recent years (Buzz, March 2019: http://www.fleetservicegb.co.uk/company-car-risk-keyless-attacks/). To steal cars without a key, thieves use so-called ‘relay’ boxes – one near a car and the other near where the car key is kept. That has the effect of lengthening the signal produced by the key, fooling the car into thinking the key is close by. The thieves can then open and start the vehicle, and drive it away.

The new ratings assess whether measures to specifically address the keyless entry/start vulnerability, have been adopted.

Thatcham Research has administered the Association of British Insurer’s Group Rating insurance system for cars and light commercial vehicles the past 50 years and has crash tested vehicles as a member of the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) for many years.

Euro NCAP data has become a key part of vehicle selection criteria for fleets in the past two decades and Thatcham Research hopes that launch of the New Vehicle Security Assessment will similarly be widely adopted – https://www.thatcham.org/what-we-do/security/consumer-rating. The focus put on Euro NCAP crash test results by fleet operators and consumers led to motor manufacturers designing safety features into vehicles to ensure they achieved top ratings.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, said of the New Vehicle Security Assessment: “This initiative focuses on addressing keyless entry/start vulnerability. We’ve seen too many examples of cars being stolen in seconds from driveways. Now, any vehicle that is assessed against the new Security Rating, and has a vulnerable keyless entry/start system, will automatically not achieve the best rating.

“Security has come a long way since vehicle crime peaked in the early 1990s. But the layers of security added over the years count for nothing when they can be circumvented instantly by criminals using digital devices. The shame is that most of the cars rated ‘poor’ would have achieved at least a ‘good’ rating had their keyless entry/start systems not been susceptible to the relay attack.”

Referencing the four cars that received a ‘superior’ rating, Mr Billyeald said: “These carmakers have made significant strides in addressing keyless entry/start vulnerability, by either switching to a more secure wireless technology or introducing key fobs that go to sleep when idle. This demonstrates that there are solutions and fixes to the problem, which we expect other manufacturers to include on their future models.”

Commenting on the Suzuki Jimny’s ‘unacceptable’ rating, Mr Billyeald said: “This car falls well below expectation, scoring consistently poorly across all criteria, and missing some fundamental security features that consumers might rightly expect should be fitted.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for vehicle crime, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty, said: “The significant reductions in vehicle crime in the 1990s were achieved by police working with manufacturers to design out crime with innovations like immobilisers, alarms and central locking.

“Police chiefs fully support the New Vehicle Security Assessment. It’s a positive step towards improving vehicle security and will help us cut the levels of crime as manufacturers continue to develop security measures.”

Laurenz Gerger, ABI’s motor policy adviser said: “The resurgence in car crime is worrying. The record amounts paid to motorists by their insurers in part reflects the vulnerability of some cars to keyless relay theft. Action by motor manufacturers to tackle this hi-tech vulnerability will help reverse this unwelcome trend.”

  • Ford, the UK’s number one fleet manufacturer, says it is fighting back against the growth in keyless car theft with the roll out of new security technology. The UK’s two top-selling cars, the Ford Fiesta and Focus are the first to benefit from the technology which disables their keyless entry fobs when not in use to block illegal hacking. Over the next two years Ford will be rolling out the same motion-sensor technology across its other cars’ key fobs. Britain’s best-selling car, the Fiesta, plus the Fiesta Van version, are already being delivered with the new fobs as standard at no extra cost, followed by Focus production from May 2019.

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