back to article Cops swoop after crooks use wireless keyfob hack to steal cars

Europol this week said it has arrested 31 people in a crackdown on a car-theft ring that developed and used a technique to steal keyless vehicles. The alleged crooks preyed on motors from two French automakers, we're told. The thieves were apparently able to update or manipulate the cars' software so that the doors could be …

  1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    Security is hard!

    I'd have thought that car manufacturers would have invested in teams that actively try to break into their new cars to avoid just this sort of situation arising.

    But then I guess that would add a few pounds/dollars/euros to the cost of the car, so the beancounter .... he say "No!"

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Security is hard!

      I think in the old days of purely mechanical locks, manufacturers did eventually hire people to test their physical security.

      Nowadays, I bet a lot of it is actually bought it, so the manufacturer trusts their supplier and the supplier just wants to keep their costs as low as possible.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Security is hard!

      Yeah, but we're talking about French auto makers . . .

      They have enough trouble making cars that don't break down after a year.

      1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        Re: Security is hard!

        It's true, that.

        Rules for life:

        1. Never buy a French car.

        2. Never go a###-to-mouth.

        3. Never let the teabag touch the milk.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Security is hard!

          Is (3) a euphemism?

      2. DJ
        Coat

        Re: Security is hard!

        An old chestnut in the automotive world: "The French copy no one, and no one copies the French"

        (mine's the one with the non-wireless fob in the pocket...)

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Security is hard!

      These days everything is tested to show that it works and then it's seen as done and once it's done, the testing is seen as complete. It's uncommon for manufacturers to test things with the aim to show that they don't work - once you fail that test you can be a lot more comfortable then just being shown a note that says it looks like it's safe; "It was unhackable (because we didn't try to hack it)"

    4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Security is hard!

      "But then I guess that would add a few pounds/dollars/euros to the cost of the car, so the customer .... he say "No!""

      FTFY. I really don't know why people blame 'beancounters' for doing what the customers demand. If people are stupid enough to put a small saving on initial purchase price ahead of even basic security, then you have to do what they want or they won't buy your product.

      Have you seen the ludicrous 'open Kias with USB plugs' exploit which is currently prevalent in the US? It works because - staggeringly - many cars in the US still aren't sold with immobilisers as standard*. Punters really won't pay the few dollars extra for a system that's mandatory pretty much everywhere else.

      *More directly, it works because you can easily yank off the ignition barrel, grip the protruding stub with a USB plug, and rotate as normal to start the car. Obviously that could all be made harder, but it wouldn't work at all if there was an immobiliser in play too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Security is hard!

        "Punters really won't pay the few dollars extra for a system that's mandatory pretty much everywhere else."

        In at least some cases, the US hardware is identical to the EU hardware, but the immobilizer isn't enabled in the US software.

        Use of the systems that can program/treprogram/reset the immobilizer is a pain due to all the security requirements ("theft relevant parts"). Using the immobilizer tech also adds some extra failure modes that can leave the legal owner stranded.

        Source: I work with ECUs, TCMs, and related modules, including some that need to comply with EU TRP laws.

        Anon, because the first rule of working with TRP is that you don't talk about TRP

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Security is hard!

        "I really don't know why people blame 'beancounters' for doing what the customers demand. "

        Oh, let's take that apart starting from the end. Customer's demands are hardly a thing. Makers need features they can 'sell'. The sales process has a large component of selling those features as things 'customer's demand'. Is it really the case that somebody that wants heated seats also wants a sunroof (eventual leaking point of failure) 100% of the time? Looking at the new Kia Niro EV, if you want one of those, you have to get both. The bigger package looks more valuable since just heated seats would mean more inventory on hand and wouldn't be able to fetch a high enough price to offset the inventory costs.

        The beancounters are looking at things that sell the car. Should they spend $100 on adding racing stripes or $100 for ongoing security testing? It will be the racing stripes every time since the testing isn't readily apparent or tangible. Cars get nicked all of the time so if the vulnerability isn't too egregious, the bad publicity won't be that noticeable. Showing the racing stripes in commercial and brochures WILL be noticeable.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: Security is hard!

          So what you're saying is that I'm right, and it's entirely about responding to what idiots will buy...

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Security is hard!

            "So what you're saying is that I'm right,"

            What I'm saying is customers are not allowed to "demand" anything. The customer doesn't "buy" something, a company "sells" them something and they're going to be told that's what they wanted and they're thrilled with it.

        2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          Re: Security is hard! / Beancounters

          It's a management issue even for a five-penny part. Back in the 1970s, the Ford Motor Company had an automatic transmission which it used in many of its models. This autotran had a flaw: In some situations, it could/would perform an uncommanded shift into reverse. A Ford engineer, discovered this issue, invented a five-penny part which could be added to the autotran to solve the problem. He raised the problem, and the fix, up to his management. Management said, "no." and the faulty autotrans were built and used without the fix. Some people got run over by their Ford autos (usually idling in their driveways). The relevant gov't department head decided Ford didn't have to recall the vehicles and fix this problem. Instead, he said Ford had to send out warning stickers to customers which had bought these vehicles. Ford did that. When the former-head-of-the-relevant government department had a fund-raising drive for his political campaign, many, many Ford executives attended an expensive fund-raising dinner on his behalf. Connect the dots.

          Automobile purchasers won't notice / care about the tiny price differential for doing "good" security, but automakers, making millions of autos, see that money as lost profit.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    motors from two French automakers

    That'll be Citroen/Peugot and Renault/Nissan then?

    Not happy if they have a 'can connect to reprogram the ECU' with the doors locked (implied but not stated in the article) and I have to admit I'm curious as to how the criminals managed that trick (as well as moderately worried since I own a recent - though poverty spec - Renault).

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: motors from two French automakers

      It's the reprogramming without opening that's the scary part.

      Many years ago I owned a Citroen and was surprised that the garage would connect the computer to the OBD port on the car and get the car to reprogram the keyfob.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        I'm not surprised that the keyfob can be reprogrammed - or rather, the security system can be told to accept a different fob; I don't think the fob would change its RFID chip value though that's possible for some chips - from inside the vehicle.

        Like A Mouse above, my concern is why the access is available from outside a locked vehicle - if indeed I read the article correctly and that is what happened.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        "Many years ago I owned a Citroen and was surprised that the garage would connect the computer to the OBD port on the car and get the car to reprogram the keyfob."

        If the driver's door must be open, I don't see it as being an issue. When I needed to pair a new fob with my last car, I had to do something like turn the key on and off a few times and fiddle the pin switch for the driver's side door a few times until some light came on the dash. If that can be done by a device connected to the OBD port, that's not too bad as long as other conditions are met such as doors being open, lights switched on, whatever. I can remember that it took a few goes to get the car to get into the pairing mode and it was super annoying since I had no feedback on why it didn't do if the first time. Likely it was timing, but was it doing things too slow or too fast?

        If somebody has a door open and a truck, they car will be stolen. Cars are meant to be mobile so if thieves want the car bad enough, they'll have it. Any sort of key is going to have some imperfections, but I do see that the current way it's done is a step back from a physical metal key with some sort of fobby thing needing to be in the lock. No key, no unlocking of the steering column and no chip on the key would mean the car won't start. A physical key is also useful to unlock the doors if a battery is flat. I have a chipped key hidden in my car and spare non-chipped keys in various places to gain access. It reminds me that I need to check some batteries and should put that on my calendar as a regular thing. I can't hide a spare modern fob in the car as its presence would unlock the car. If the battery were easier to take out, maybe one could be inside with the battery taped to the thing.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: motors from two French automakers

      Hard to believe that any of those brands would be such desirable targets, don't these thieves usually go for Porsches, Mercs or Lexuses (Lexi?)

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        I guess there are different market segments in car theft just as in any other sector. Mass market cars might be easier to sell on to criminals looking for unidentifiable cars. Stripping them for parts might also be more lucrative for popular models than rarer ones. If thieves have a relatively automated 'get and go' system it could work low-margin high-volume, just like Amazon

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: motors from two French automakers

          To a reasonable approximation* cars are only stolen for parts, these days. The value of the parts may be less than the value of the whole car at normal market prices, but it's almost impossible to sell or export a stolen car, whereas parts are far less strictly controlled/tracked.

          *There are exceptions, but they're rare. Joyriders, I guess. Apparently criminals don't steal cars to use in other crimes, these days, because they're more likely to get caught than just buying a cheap car with fake ID.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: motors from two French automakers

            "Apparently criminals don't steal cars to use in other crimes, these days, because they're more likely to get caught than just buying a cheap car with fake ID."

            I still see reports of stolen cars being used to ram through the front of a shop to gain access and then abandoned. They can also be used to break the trail after a crime. CCTV might pick up the escape vehicle, but if the thieves transfer from car to car a couple of times, they can obfuscate their trail and wind up with the loot in a properly registered car that won't trigger any alarms. Using a fake ID to buy a cheap used car might be a bit more than those sorts of people want to do. They are looking to steal money, not spend it. The process of buying the car also poses some risk.

            1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

              Re: motors from two French automakers

              "I still see reports of stolen cars being used to ram through the front of a shop"

              Ram raiding? Really? Where on earth do you live?

              Anyway, in general crims don't use stolen cars as getaway vehicles because they're more likely to be pulled over before the getaway. It's so easy for them to get cheap cars without giving their real details.

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: motors from two French automakers

                "Ram raiding? Really? Where on earth do you live?"

                Right now I'm in the US. Time is of the essence if you are breaking in someplace. Bang a nice big hole and getting in and out is not an issue. This is especially true with industrial estates where most businesses shut come evening and there isn't anybody around until morning. The idea is that setting off the alarm is fine since if you know where the watch is, you'll know how much time you have to grab what you want and be off before they can get there if they even worry about yet another alarm going off. If the night life zone is on the other side of town, even better. About the time the bars close, all of the coppers will be towards that end looking for drink drivers and other idiots.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: motors from two French automakers

              They can also be used to break the trail after a crime. CCTV might pick up the escape vehicle, but if the thieves transfer from car to car a couple of times, they can obfuscate their trail and wind up with the loot in a properly registered car that won't trigger any alarms.

              Depends whether said criminals are bright enough to not carry a phone with them - pinged at theft location and dump site would be a fair coincidence. You'd be surprised how plenty are as thick as shit in that regard.

      2. chivo243 Silver badge
        Go

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        Hard to believe that any of those brands would be such desirable targets, don't these thieves usually go for Porsches, Mercs or Lexuses (Lexi?)

        Different market, these thefts are for parts, next stop, chop shop!

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: motors from two French automakers

            I mentioned that above, but I didn't want to link to that site - not sure if they're stupid or paid, but they keep spouting Kremlin propaganda points.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        "Hard to believe that any of those brands would be such desirable targets"

        Any working car has value so an easy target might be preferable. Even a non-working car can be useful broken down into parts. Just the price of an airbag or catalytic converter can be a nice day's pay. Cheaper cars are also lower on the RADAR. If you drive a high end car into a low end neighborhood, it would get noticed. So would the same thing being brought into one of the seedier industrial estates where the door is opened, the car pulled in and the door quickly shut. If the car were some low-spec commuter vehicle, it might not arouse any suspicion. Many of the less expensive cars are worth good money for the parts as they can be thick on the ground.

    3. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: That'll be Citroen/Peugot and Renault/Nissan then?

      I was thinking maybe Aixam and Ligier.

      -A.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: That'll be Citroen/Peugot and Renault/Nissan then?

        You don't need high tech to nick an Aixam or Ligier. Just pick them up and take them away.

      2. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: That'll be Citroen/Peugot and Renault/Nissan then?

        I’d assumed Avions Voisin and Facel.

        Mmm. Facel Vega. Yummy.

    4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: motors from two French automakers

      Europol implied it could be done with the doors locked, but they might have just meant that having gained access the thieves had the ability to program a key to do stuff like unlock the doors.

      It could also be a two-stage thing - first exploit a weakness in the locking system, then use the OBD port to completely compromise the car.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        > "exploit a weakness in the locking system"

        Like smashing a window?

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: motors from two French automakers

          That's not really a weakness in the locking system. There are many ways of opening car doors without smashing windows, but I was thinking primarily of the keyless entry exploits.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        It does mention back street garages, so I assume a few dodgy dealers uploading a 'patch' via ODB during a cheap 'service'

    5. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: motors from two French automakers

      "That'll be Citroen/Peugot and Renault/Nissan then?"

      Only Renault/Nissan can really be called French these days. PSA/Vauxhall/Opel is now part of Stellantis. Stellantis is HQ'd in Amsterdam, so technically everything from Fiats and Dodges to Maseratis are Dutch cars now :)

      1. Calum Morrison

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        My first thought was Citroen / Peugeot, but as you say they're Stellantis so many many more brands would be implicated - the technology shared between a Vauxhall corsa and Pug 208 is almost total.

        I think Renault and Nissan are a bit less integrated though arguably Renault / Alpine would count as two French brands so that may be who it is. an Alpine A110 is effectively a Renault mechanically so I assume its security system will be too.

        Of course, this doesn't count Dacia (and indeed Lada until earlier this year) but then they famously avoid technology that adds little to a car that their customers really want.

      2. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        I can’t see sensible Dutch owners putting up with the usual Dodge/Chrysler nonsense for long. I was surprised that Daimler didn’t get rid of them much earlier. Teutonic efficiency and Dodge don’t go together.

        And, for those who forget… a few years ago there was a fun hack that allowed remote access to the complete system on every Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep from certain generations. Total access, as in steering control, brakes, engine control (on/off on some vehicles, acceleration, everything) and even the ‘entertainment system’. A properly set up person could steal one of those cars from the next county, much less from next door. Given the number of Dodge Chargers used by various police organizations around the US, I found that to be hilarious. For some reason, the cops weren’t amused.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: motors from two French automakers

          "a few years ago there was a fun hack that allowed remote access to the complete system on every Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep from certain generations"

          This was a proof of concept never seen in the wild, and there was some suspicion about the story given the people claiming to be able to do it refused to release the part of the method that was remarkable - the wifi exploit had been known for a while, it was the privilege escalation that only they could do. Since we haven't seen it in the wild since then, my guess is it wasn't actually a practical attack - if it was real at all.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: motors from two French automakers

            "Since we haven't seen it in the wild since then, my guess is it wasn't actually a practical attack - if it was real at all."

            I equate some of that with the practice of putting a really good and expensive lock on your front door. Past a certain point a more direct attack will take place. Something like smashing a window or towing the car elsewhere and working on any security systems there. I can fit a super high-tech lock to my front door, but I'd expect at that point the burglar would just go around back and carefully break a window to get it. It might even be easier to cut through a wall. The lock just needs to be good enough.

      3. David 132 Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: motors from two French automakers

        > so technically everything from Fiats and Dodges to Maseratis are Dutch cars now :)

        I knew that the new ownership had taken effect because shortly afterwards, my Fiat’s catalytic converter got clogged.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      Re: motors from two French automakers

      Maybe it was Ineos/Grenadier ?

  3. Mike 137 Silver badge

    An alternative

    My car (admittedly almost a vintage motor) has a physical metal key that I push into a physical lock. In order to get a spare duplicate, I had to present my ownership document at the dealership to be given the key code and then had to present this and my identity document at the key cutting shop. They also actually asked to see the original key as well. I have a funny feeling that's more secure than any remote locking gadget, particularly as this is by far not the only attack vector on recent record.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An alternative

      Reminds me of last time I had a key cut for my old Mitsubishi.

      The conversation went like this...

      Him: "Sorry Mate, can't copy this key, my machine can't read the transponder"

      Me: "It doesn't have a transponder"

      Him: "It's for security. There's a chip in the key that talks to the immobiliser"

      Me: "I know, but this is an old car, it doesn't have an immobiliser"

      Him (scoffing): "Of course it does, you can't just turn the key and start the engine"

      Me: "Yes you can, that's exactly how it works"

      Him:"Trust me mate, it's not going to work"

      Me: "Please could you just cut it for me anyway?"

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: An alternative

        "Me: "Please could you just cut it for me anyway?""

        You know you are talking to a complete stooge if you have to bend their arm up their back to take your money. All they have to say is there are no refunds on cut keys.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An alternative

      Yes. I'd imagine that only the car dealership could possible make a replica of a physical object like a key. Those criminals would be s**t out of luck if they tried to copy a key any other way.

    3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: An alternative

      "I have a funny feeling that's more secure than any remote locking gadget"

      Your feeling is definitely amusing, given how utterly wrong it is :)

      There is very little less secure than an old-fashioned ignition cylinder. Might as well replace it with a rotary switch for all the security it provides. Classically, thieves just hammered in a flatblade screwdriver and turned the cylinder with brute force. But these days, any car old enough to be using that tech will almost certainly have a completely worn out cylinder which can be opened with anything that will fit in the slot.

      At one time about 10-15 years ago I had a shonky old 1990 BMW 3 series. There was a problem with the lock cylinders, so I ended up taking out the ignition barrel and one door lock to fix/get replacements. I notified the insurance company, of course, and they said not to worry, it was no less secure in their eyes.

      1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

        Re: An alternative

        Nearly got into the wrong Ford Cortina. Same colour, wrong key didn't matter. But the junk on the passenger seat looked wrong....

        1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          Non-Unique Keysets

          Did get into the wrong Toyota. Same color, same model, wrong key, seat happened to be set like mine. I started it up, looked over, saw the clean(!) baby diaper on the passenger seat, said "WTF?!" Shut off the engine, got out, walked behind the car, saw the number plate wasn't mine, locked up not-my-car, and found my car four slots away.

          The problem is that car makers do not make their car locks and key sets unique. They have a number of different keyings, and trust on geographical distribution to minimize the problem of lock/key-set X being used in multiple vehicles.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: An alternative

          "Nearly got into the wrong Ford Cortina. Same colour, wrong key didn't matter. But the junk on the passenger seat looked wrong...."

          I worked for a person that rented movie props. He has several ex-police Crown Vics and didn't realize they all were keyed the same. When he bought another one from an auction we were at that had no key, I opened up the car and started it with one we had for the other cars on his property. I sorta guessed it would have the standard fleet key so I brought one with me.

        3. Wexford

          Re: An alternative

          I unlocked and got into the wrong Holden Camira (Cavalier in the UK, I believe), sat down, started the motor, and music from someone else's cassette came on. My brother in the passenger seat: "Were we listening to U2 on the way here?"

          My car was two spots away, it turns out.

          That Camira key could also unlock and start the ignition on most Holden Geminis at the time (early 80s models).

      2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
        Stop

        Auxiliary, Home-Built "Immobiliser"

        I had a mate with a buggy 1976 Chevy Vega. It had a fuel pump in the gas tank, which was in the rear of the car. For some reason, the fuel pump wasn't getting power. He fixed the symptom by running an auxiliary +12V wire to the pump. He put a toggle switch in the new wire, and mounted the switch up underneath the driver's seat.

        If you didn't turn on the auxilliary power to the fuel pump, the engine would start, run two or three minutes, then die. "Security through obscurity", true, but how much patience (and time) does the average car-thief have?

        (Icon for stopping car theft ...)

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Auxiliary, Home-Built "Immobiliser"

          ""Security through obscurity", true, but how much patience (and time) does the average car-thief have?"

          You don't even need to hide the switch. Most cars have spaces for switches that aren't used for anything. Just get the switch for that unused option and it can sit there bold as brass. A multi-position switch adds another layer of obscurity. You have to put it in the correct position rather than just 'on'. There's the added benefit that if it fails for some reason, you just have to twist the wires together to make the car work. An electronic mobilizer going rotten might be far more difficult to bypass.

    4. khjohansen

      Re: An alternative

      80es Fords -Fiesta, Escort & Sierra - only used the tip of the key for the doors. This meant every Ford key would open the doors of 1 in every 3 cars. A magazine gave away a "dummy" Ford key with every copy one month ...!

  4. David M

    Progress of car security

    When my friend's Vauxhall Viva was stolen around 1980, the police found it abandoned and managed to get into it with a Ford Cortina key. Pretty much any small flat piece of metal would unlock it. On top of which, it was possible to open the Viva's bonnet from the outside, and under the bonnet was a button labelled 'push to start engine'. Since then car security has steadily improved, with proper keys, alarms, deadlocks, immobilisers and so on. Until recently, that is, when technology seems to be returning us to the 'push to start engine' stage.

    1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

      Re: Progress of car security

      My first car was a Vauxhall Cavalier... A 1983 1.6L that I owned around 1995.

      The door handles kept breaking, as did the window winders... So I was always at the local scrap yard looking for spares.

      One day the key broke... and because of a break in a few months earlier... I'd had to replace the ignition barrel... Which meant I had 2 keys, one for the doors, one for the ignition.

      I tried the ignition key in the door lock, and it opened.

      As a curious little bugger... I tried other items... all of them worked.

      The final item I tried to unlock the car... an ice cream lollypop stick.

      It worked.

      1. jmch Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Progress of car security

        Talk about being Cavalier about security!

      2. stungebag

        Re: Progress of car security

        I had a company Sierra a while back. It needed a thin physical key with a round cross-section to unlock the central locking. Some oiks tried to steal it one day but the police were on hand and stopped them, leaving me with a dangling ignition switch and nice full-beam-only headlights for my commute home on the M25, the scrotes having broken the stalk.

        The policeman told me that to unlock the doors all you need is half a tennis ball. You place it over the keyhole and strike it sharply. The air pressure then unlocks the car.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Progress of car security

          I had a Rover 214 with non-remote central locking. Only three doors had actuators - the driver's door was purely mechanical on the turn of the key. Unfortunately it was also a bit loose, so on a cold morning it was vital, after starting the engine and getting back out to scrape the windows, not to close the driver's door too hard; if you did, the button would come down and the doors would lock with your keys inside. Of course, this was after locking up the house to go to work and the house key was on same bunch as the car key so you couldn't even get back inside the house for the spare. Ever since then I got into the habit, if I had to exit the car with the keys still inside, of winding the driver's window down first, just in case.

          M.

          1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

            Re: Progress of car security

            I had a friend who'd had a new alarm system installed... remote engine start and anti car jacking and so forth.

            Well... he was showing it off to us one day, and lifted the bonnet to show us some mods he'd done.

            The wind blew the drivers door shut and because the anti jacking was enabled... locked the car... with his keys in the ignition.

            He was 70 miles from home...

            Had to call out the AA, who had a good chuckle, instered an inflatable back into the frameless window and B pillar, to create just enough of a gap to thread a hooked wire into the car to pull the door release.

            I've still got the pictures of him at work with my friend looking on sheepishly... and the rest of us with huge shit eating grins on our faces.

            He disabled the anti car jacking mode after that.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Progress of car security

          "The policeman told me that to unlock the doors all you need is half a tennis ball. You place it over the keyhole and strike it sharply. The air pressure then unlocks the car."

          OMG, that's brilliant. I'll have to send that one to Deviant Ollum. The Lock Picking Lawyer hasn't used that approach before. I might be wrong as I'm way behind on episodes.

      3. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: Progress of car security

        What are you complaining about? It was more secure than a Ford Angila. Guess how I know.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Progress of car security

      At a car ferry close to where I grew up (so we're talking 30+ years ago), it happened occasionally that someone locked their keys in their car.

      Legend has it that the ferry staff could unlock any car in a handful of seconds

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: Progress of car security

        Legend has it that the ferry staff could unlock any car in a handful of seconds

        Many cars had a linkage which ran from the interior pull-handle to the door lock. If you inserted a thin J-shaped strip of metal past the window rubber you could hook the link, give it a tug, and the door lock would release.

        First time it took me half an hour on a busy Saturday high street without anyone even asking what I was doing. Mere seconds after a bit of practice, finding the best J-bend and where to aim for. I pulled the metal strip from a windscreen wiper which simply unclipped.

        I believe they eventually got round to putting a deflector strip above the linkage to prevent that trick.

      2. DoctorPaul

        Re: Progress of car security

        Which explains how my partner's jewellery went missing on a ferry crossing back in the day (the day being the 1980s)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Progress of car security

        We had some guys come round for a security audit as we were doing a government contract and I casually mentioned there were a couple of cabinets in the next room that had combination locks but there was no one left that knew the combinations.

        Took them 5 mins to open both and reset the combinations

        Unfortunately, no gold bars inside!

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: Progress of car security

          Combination locks mostly aren't that hard to decode. You don't have to be Feynman (though it clearly helps!).

          https://www.cs.virginia.edu/cs588/safecracker.pdf

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Progress of car security

      Most cars of that vintage could have the doors opened by a key of roughly the right shape and a bit of jiggling simply because of how worn the locks were, always try the drivers door first as that gets at least double the use of any other lock on the vehicle.

      Ignition locks tended to fare better as they were used less than door locks and weren't exposed to the outside weather.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Progress of car security

        Ford were well known for it.

        The reason they were the first manufacturer to fit high-security "disc" locks was that they Needed To Be Seen To Be Doing Something About It.

        Rumour has it that there were a grand total of five distinct Cortina keys. There were many shapes, but all you need to open every single one was the five.

        I personally opened and started a Ford Cargo truck using the ignition key from an Austin 1100. While less than a third the size and single, rather than double, edged, it fitted and turned like it was the right key. No fiddling or jiggling required.

        Another time I was refuelling and there was a bit of a commotion at the next pump. A woman had locked the keys in her Fiesta. I walked over with a bunch of keys and tried each of them, despite scepticism from the assembled crowd. The third one I tried (the fuel filler cap key from a Skoda Rapid 130) did the job.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Progress of car security

          A neighbour locked her keys in her Fiesta along with her baby. None of my keys worked, but I had the back window out in about five minutes - in one piece - without even waking the baby.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Progress of car security

            "None of my keys worked, but I had the back window out in about five minutes"

            That was likely the cheapest way to go about it. Fitting the window back in is a quick job for a glass shop. Breaking something would have been far more expensive even if you didn't intend to break the thing. Some girls I knew locked their keys in their car and called me to help since they didn't have the money to call a tow truck. In the process, I pushed the clip off of the back of the lock cylinder in the door and had to spend a half hour removing the door panel and fixing it back again. It did make it very easy to grip the rod inside with some needle nose pliers and unlock the door. They could have been more grateful, if you know what I mean.

        2. krakead

          Re: Progress of car security

          My parent's Cortina was stolen and recovered twice in one week due to Ford's comedy locks.

          My latest car has this keyless nonsense - keep the fobs in faraday pouches and a substantial, bright yellow lock on the steering wheel to compensate.

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Progress of car security

            "a substantial, bright yellow lock on the steering wheel"

            Steering locks are pointless bits of scammy fake-security junk, sold by conmen preying on worried car owners. They don't work _at all_.

            The best of a woeful bunch are the Disklock types, but even those take seconds to deal with enough to drive the car away*, and can then be removed at the thieves' leisure in a safe location. The others aren't even that good, and can simply be removed in seconds on the spot.

            *They aren't thick enough anyway, but the only thing stopping the steering rotating is the protruding handle/bar. Thieves slip a piece of scaffolding pole over it and bend it 90 degrees until the wheel can rotate freely, then drive away.

            If you want to make your car more secure, fit a kill switch. Anyone reading this site ought to be able to DIY it for £5-£10 depending on how fancy a switch you want to fit.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Progress of car security

              I'm personally for a kill switch anyway - I really don't trust start/stop buttons to do the job in case of emergency. I rather have a rallye style master switch somewhere in the ignition/fuel pump circuits.

              Actually, something to disable the fuel pump could be the most interesting hack as it's impossible to diagnose if you're in a hurry. But I suspect it simply means the next time they would show up it would be with a towing truck. Apparently things are stolen to order.

              1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

                Re: Progress of car security

                "I suspect it simply means the next time they would show up it would be with a towing truck. Apparently things are stolen to order."

                It depends on the car, but mass-market cars aren't stolen to order. Thieves aren't put off by much, but probably won't bother if it involves a tow-truck - at that point they don't need to target cars with keyless entry flaws.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Progress of car security

                  I wonder how easy it for a criminal is to dwell in a city where they tow away cars for parking violations and pick up a few cars.

                  I've never heard of it so I would like to know what stops this from happening.

              2. jmch Silver badge

                Re: Progress of car security

                "the next time they would show up it would be with a towing truck. Apparently things are stolen to order"

                That used to happen to high-value motorcycles. approach with a van, tip the bike over onto a mattress, and 4 brawny men*, one on each corner of the mattress, to loft it into the van.

                * Supersports bikes weigh in at about 200kg

        3. Roger Greenwood

          Re: Progress of car security

          Escorts were known as a "Ford Takeaway" back in the day. My Morris Ital key could open many of them them. Such fun going round a car park, just for laughs.

        4. Steve K
          Coat

          Re: Progress of car security

          Talking of interchangeable parts, I once spoiled an Austin Ambassador with a Ferrari washer

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Progress of car security

            "I once spoiled an Austin Ambassador with a Ferrari washer"

            Samcrac has found that many Ferrari parts are rebadged and far less expensive components from other cars. Just take off the back cover, paint it red and put on a Ferrari parts sticker and you are set.

    4. AVR

      Re: Progress of car security

      Way back my mother had a little red Mazda 323. One day, after coming back from the theatre the previous night she couldn't figure out where the umbrella stashed in the front passenger seat had gone. And the car was a slightly yellower shade of red... we sorted it out, but the people whose car was accidentally stolen were Not Amused.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Progress of car security

        My father almost did that with is Ford Sierra, but before actually driving off started to notice stuff in the car that was not his. Both white, both using same key...

      2. Sam not the Viking Silver badge

        Re: Progress of car security

        I've commented on this before, repeated/edited/perfected (/j):

        It's a long time ago, but one of our reps was travelling from Manchester to the deep south and stopped at a Motorway Services for a breather. Returned to the car, opens the door with his key, starts up, drives off, and returns to the motorway. After about 15 minutes thinks:

        "Someone's left their gloves on the back seat"

        "I don't wear a hat."

        "That's not my coat."

        "This isn't my car......."

        So he leaves the motorway at the next junction (this is a long way on some sections), returns up the motorway to the next junction beyond the services, back down the motorway to the services and parks up next to a car that looks remarkably like the one he is driving.... Tries his key in the 'other' car. It opens. Gets in, recognises his own mess..... Drives off, leaving a car with an extra 125+ miles on the clock and no doubt a mystified owner and possibly a bemused traffic cop.....

    5. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Progress of car security

      As a small child I opened my father's Hillman with a wooden lolly stick.

      I had to snap it in half in such a way that it would fit in the slot, but that's pretty much all that was required of car locks back then.

      -A.

    6. MrReynolds2U

      Re: Progress of car security

      Yep. I had an old Morris Minor. A small screw-driver to unlock the quarter window, reach in and open the door. I can't remember if the screwdriver worked on the ignition but there was a solenoid button under the bonnet lid to start the engine and no built-in steering wheel lock.

      For a Golf, Polo or similar, a large flat-blade with some percussive force pushed the boot lock through and then you could use a finger to release the boot door. So I never left anything of value in that car.

      As a question though, it always appears in US films that car thieves simply get in, remove the steering-wheel trim and join wires before driving off (presumably requires older cars). There's never any indication of a steering lock, do you have that on US spec cars?

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Progress of car security

        "it always appears in US films that car thieves simply get in, remove the steering-wheel trim and join wires before driving off (presumably requires older cars). There's never any indication of a steering lock, do you have that on US spec cars?"

        The way they show it in films is as realistic as everything else Hollywood does. It's somewhat more difficult than that to hotwire a car.

        Steering locks do exist, except on very old cars. They, and immobilisers, are why hotwiring isn't really done anymore. That said, I suspect most steering locks aren't actually strong enough not to be breakable by applying force to the steering wheel. One of those aftermarket steering lock things would make a good lever...

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Progress of car security

          "That said, I suspect most steering locks aren't actually strong enough not to be breakable by applying force to the steering wheel."

          Most are. They are at least strong enough that the steering wheel would break before the lock did.

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Progress of car security

            To be clear, I meant the thing stopping the steering column rotating. It's just a little detent and protrusion to match.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Progress of car security

        The ignition switch on a Morris Minor was in the centre of the dash, and the wires were attached by spade connectors. Just pull them off and join them.

        IIRC most, if not all, Mozzies still had a starting handle slot in the bumper, so starting them didn't even require a push button.

        1. MrReynolds2U

          Re: Progress of car security

          Yep, I seem to remember we had a starting handle on mine. Fookin scary at times if it caught and kicked back at you.

          Although it became a daily practice to find the battery flat (alternator problem) and jump start it by rolling it down the hill.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Progress of car security

        My first car was an 18yo Austin A30, that had had its engine replaced with one from an A35 (a full 948cc)! To fit the correct speedometer, the dash was replaced with a hand-cut aluminium version, and the ignition lock was replaced with a simple toggle switch. For security, there was a rather loud horn fitted that would go off if you switched the ignition on without previously pushing in a toggle switch (out of view under the dash). There was also a separate switch under the bonnet that disconnected the main feed to the starter - extra security if I was leaving it on the street overnight. It was broken into on a couple of occasions (as already discussed, old locks are easily operated) but the car was never taken...

        1. MrReynolds2U

          Re: Progress of car security

          I remember kill switches being very common during the 90s when car security was pretty crap.

          My mates often just repurposed an unused switch on the central console. I think one put his in the back of the pull out ashtray. Oh, and we all had detachable head-units on our stereos (aka ICE).

          Tried to find that scene from When a Man Loves a Woman where Meg Ryan pelts the car with the alarm going off. I had that alarm and it used to go off all the bloody time at night. Meg Ryan never came by to throw eggs at mine though, shame.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I call that a successful operation

    "Those arrested apparently include the software developers, its resellers, and the car thieves who used the tool"

    Well done to the police forces involved.

    Good coordination, good cooperation, and the miscreants go down for the count.

    Now all that is needed is for the automakers to analyse the fault and correct it.

    Why am I skeptical at this point ?

    1. Len

      Re: I call that a successful operation

      That is more or less expected as it was a Europol operation. Their role is specifically to collect and share intelligence with regular police forces, investigate bigger and border-crossing types of crime, and coordinate pan-European searches and arrests.

      They don't have their own 'cops', they leave the searches and arrests to local police forces but they will take the coordinating role (so a dawn raid in Portugal doesn't alert the accomplices in Finland because all raids happen simultaneously).

      It tends to take a while before Europol gets involved, petty crime is not their thing, but when they do get involved they tend to be quite impressive operations. What probably triggered Europol involvement is that this wasn't just a local gang who fiddled with some fobs to steal a handful of cars but that it was an organised crime ring that sold their tech and services to local gangs.

  6. Julian 8

    Only way is to go back to the 1980's and the good old steering wheel locks

    Remmeber the nice Orange Hook things going over the brake and steering wheel, or are the new yellow ones that look like they attach to the steering wheel any better ?

    1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

      Back in the later half of the 90's when I learned to drive, I had one that went over the handbrake and around the gearstick, and another that was put through the steering wheel.

      Then one day, the key to the handbrake one fell of my keyring due to a crappy ring that bent or got snagged.

      I could remove the steering wheel one... thankfully, It was parked close enough to my ground floor flat to be able to run an extention and get my grinder out.

      Unfortunately... I lived just 200 yards from the main police station in the city... and cars would often go past the block, as well as beat officers walking past.

      Cue a car passing by... stopping and backing up... and two large officers getting out to enquire what I was doing.... in a car park next to the city centre, with doors wide open, music blaring... and sparks flying out one door.

      Once I'd told them, and proved ownership of said vehicle... they chuckled and let me carry on.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        "I had one that went over the handbrake and around the gearstick"

        Er... The gearknob unscrews by hand, at which point you can lift the lock free. That type is one of the scammiest of all the scammy security devices out there.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      I'll have a Viper please...

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ni5w49tOuNw

    3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      "are the new yellow ones that look like they attach to the steering wheel any better ?"

      No, they're all complete junk. Someone makes a half-decent looking one called the Stoplock, which is apparently the best of that type available. It is quite hard to remove - hard to cut, etc - unless you happen to know that the locking hasp breaks off with a single blow from a hammer. Unfortunately, thieves who know stuff like how to steal keyless cars do know stuff like that.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Facepalm

        The steering wheel lock is virtually un-cuttable. Unfortunately the steering wheel itself takes about 3 seconds to cut with a hacksaw, then you can simply slide the lock off.

        The owner won't damage their own steering wheel but a thief won't hesitate.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          "The steering wheel lock is virtually un-cuttable."

          Even if this were true - and it's a highly dubious assertion made by purveyors of such locks - it's irrelevant when they can be removed in other ways. Generally there's no need to cut the steering wheel - the lock can be 'unlocked' without a key anyway.

          I had a look at the halfords website just now. Staggeringly, most of the locks on sale have keyways you can hammer a flat bladed screwdriver into. That's the manufacturers not even trying - they know they're scamming people.

          You know LockPickingLawyer's common line about 'this is quicker to open _without_ the key'? Seems to apply to most steering locks.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      About the only real effect they have is as a deterrent. Given a carpark full of vehicles, lazy thieves who aren't looking for a specific model will hopefully just skip the one with the wheel lock as not being worth the extra 30 seconds effort to nick it. There's an easier one just beside it.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        The evidence is that it has no deterrent effect at all. The thieves doing this aren't opportunists, they're organised gangs. If there are two identical cars, one with steering lock and one without, they'll steal both. Seriously. They target an area and steal every example of the vulnerable model, sometimes half a dozen or a dozen in a few neighbouring streets go in one night.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We don't want decent security.

    Many years ago a major manufacturer designed and delivered a system than was pretty secure. To the extent that it was unhackable by the manufacturer. You needed a special key that only (note *only*) the cars owner/purchaser was given. With crystal clear warnings about the cost (new ECU at c. £1,000) if they lost it.

    Within days some numpty lost the master key and the papers were full of sad face photos of said dopey git wailing about the fact that car security (which the same media had been whinging about for years) was now too good.

    All of which I know coz I worked on that project. After that, no car manufacturer ever wanted real security. Just enough to keep the press happy.

    1. johnfbw

      Re: We don't want decent security.

      If your car gets stolen, they get to sell you a brand new one!

  8. Paul Cooper

    Many moons ago, in the mid 70's I owned a Toyota that was probably built around 1970. I locked the keys in two or three times, but it was simplicity itself to break in - a bit of bent wire between the window and the door frame to hook on the bar that operated the latch, and hey presto - you were in. I think it was a copper that showed me that trick!

    I understand that cars built somewhat later had a fixed bar over the top of the bar that operated the latch so you couldn't do that!

    To bring it up to date, my present car updates its software over a mobile phone connection (it has its own built in). It does ask for permission that must be given from the in car multi-function screen, though, but that only required the proximity of the key to operate it - I rarely have to take the key out of my pocket!

  9. Colin Bull 1
    Unhappy

    coincidental

    IN 2017 I bought a 2 year old Citroen C4 with only one key. Timpsons said they could duplicate the key with a authorisation code from Citroen. When this came the car was booked in, for most people this would be a short drive straight there. For me it meant a ferry trip and turning the ignition on. On Trying to restart the car I got a Key Fob error warning and the car would not start.

    This is too much of a coincidence for me. I believe there is some telemetry in the car at allows this.

    From Citroen website -"Citroën Connected Services includes practical programmes such as Real Time Traffic and Telemaintenance which are FREE to activate for new car customers"

    I think word has got out how to do this.

  10. Wilco

    Public Service

    I imagine that the former Renault/Citroen/Peugeot owners were immensely grateful to the thieves for giving them the opportunity to purchase a proper car.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is basically just another Internet Of Things story isn't it, except in this case the things are a bit more expensive that some over-engineered lightbulb...and as such it's just another illustration of just because you can do something it doesn't mean that you should

  12. Squeensnex

    Trunk monkey

    There's no substitute for a trunk monkey!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2riwPkZ7A8

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Trunk monkey

      "There's no substitute for a trunk monkey!"

      That one and the two teenagers at lookout point are my favorites.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CAN bus reachable from the outside

    Most modern cars have a lot of censors outside the lokced confinement of the coupe. Radars and sofort. These are placed behind some sort of cover, mostly a plastic cover, witch is easily broken/removed. The censor itself can then be unconnected from the CAN bus, and a computer connected. Flawed design, often by choice due to cost, makes it posible to either send a unlock and start the car signal or upgrade to a new key.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: CAN bus reachable from the outside

      True, modern cars do have lots of sensors and actuators that could be accessed from the outside of the car. Those will not be on the same CAN bus as the powertrain devices. Cars havent had "A" (as in a singular) CAN bus for decades. Modern cars can have over 20 CAN busses (plus automotive Ethernet and a grab bag of LIN, FlexRay, MOST, etc.).

  14. Ivan Headache

    New keys

    about three months back, my daughter’s Range Rover was stolen from outside her house.

    There was a significant distance (50-60 metre): between the car’s location and the key fob which was kept in one of those faraday pouches.

    The car disappeared sometime after midnight and was found abandoned by the police around breakfast time.

    There was significant damage inside the cabin and boot as the thieves had tried (and failed) to find the tracker. They had ripped out trim, cut open the seats and roof lining and generally made a right mess, including throwing out all the baby’s safety kit.

    When she went to retrieve the car, her key would not start the motor. The system had been reprogrammed.

  15. Jan 0 Silver badge

    Do unearthed "Faraday pouches" work, for reasonable values of work?

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Yes, if 'reasonable values of work' includes 'make money for purveyors of dodgy fake security equipment'. Otherwise, probably not.

    2. Ivan Headache

      Don’t actually know if her car pouch worked.

      I was given a promotional card-sleeve that was claimed to prevent cloning by nearby nere-do-wells surfing your back pocket.

      I tried it in the supermarket and it did work. The reader could not detect my card.

      I then went on eBay and bought a handful of very cheap foil-lined Mylar sleeves. They worked too.

      Now every member of the family has each of their debit/credit cards in one.

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