Illustration by Damien Weighill.
AS ANYONE who has recently driven a new vehicle knows, our cars and trucks now come loaded with a variety of high-tech features to make driving easier and safer. Despite these advances, however, even the smartest of modern vehicles is still a target for car thieves. Rates of theft are on the rise—and significantly so in urban areas like Toronto and Montreal.
As the internal systems of cars become increasingly sophisticated, so too have the methods of thieves to evade them. Common theft techniques now include easily available electronic devices to “clone” nearby key fobs, allowing thieves to enter a vehicle and drive off with it in a matter of minutes. Cars are then either sold for parts or loaded onto shipping containers for export overseas, making them next to impossible to recover. (Tip: Keep your keys in a Faraday Bag, which blocks radio signals, so thieves can’t intercept them.)
While no vehicle is theft-proof, some automakers offer enhanced systems for added security. Honda’s stolen-vehicle locator—HondaLink™, offered by subscription on newer models—uses GPS technology to assist authorities in finding stolen cars. GM’s OnStar system can remotely slow down a stolen vehicle to hamper a thief’s getaway. Other add-ons, like BMW’s Drive Recorder and Tesla’s Sentry Mode, turn a vehicle’s cameras into a surveillance system that can capture thieves in the act.
Automakers are also responding to high-tech thievery in more direct ways, notes Sam Abuelsamid, a mobility analyst at consulting firm Guidehouse Insights. “What we’re starting to see now is something known as ultra-wideband [UWB] technology,” he says. By using a complex and precise system of communication between the fob and the car, UWB is more difficult to fool than previous generations of remote fobs, he explains. “It identifies you and authenticates where you are before it’ll unlock the door and start the car, so it’s a much more secure system.”
Other security features Canadians can expect in the coming years are biometric scanners like the ones found on smartphones. “I think biometrics is probably going to be the next big thing that we see roll out more broadly,” Abuelsamid predicts, noting that the technology is already available in the Genesis GV70 SUV, which uses a fingerprint reader to identify authorized drivers.
Despite these advances, our cars’ reliance on wireless networks invites opportunities for thieves to hack them. “The more points of connectivity you have, the more potential there is for bad actors to get in and do anything, from stealing your data to disabling your car with a ransomware attack,” Abuelsamid says. The auto industry is aware of these weaknesses, he says, and manufacturers are taking action.
For now, police suggest focusing on visual deterrents. Even with high-tech protection, it’s still a good idea to do whatever it takes to discourage thieves.
“I would suggest making the vehicle less tempting to thieves,” says Ryan Peterson, manager of automotive services for the CAA Club Group, “meaning, parking under a light or in a secured garage. Thieves want the lowest risk with the highest payoff.”