12 Sep 2012

BMW security loophole leads to rise in car thefts


BMW launches an investigation into its vehicles’ security after discovering a high-tech security loophole which has seen top-of-the-range cars driven away without the owners’ keys.

Instead of the traditional metal key, many cars now have an electronic fob which opens and starts the car. Thieves have discovered how to create copies of these electronic keys. BMW, one of the marques affected, has acknowledged the problem and is offering customers a fix.

With no obvious signs of theft in such cases, insurers have been reluctant to pay out. The financial watchdog is now urging insurers to investigate such thefts more thoroughly.

BMW owners have taken to the internet to complain about the ease with which they feel their cars have been stolen. Once such victim is Vinny Ghalley. His £30,000 BMW was taken from outside his house in Maidenhead at 3am, while he – and his keys – were inside.

Mr Ghalley told Channel 4 News: “It’s chilling to think that a car that’s supposed to be 5-star security rated can be stolen in 15 minutes.

Car crime has gone down in recent years, but in London, 39 per cent of cars stolen last year were taken without the owners’ keys being present

“It was 8.30am and I was getting ready for work, I looked out and saw the car was missing. I thought someone had borrowed it, then it sunk in that it had been stolen.

“I checked the keys. I had the main key in my jacket pocket, and the others I never use. The keys hadn’t moved overnight and no-one had got into the house, so they’ve obviously used some kind of advanced tech to drive car away.”

BMW cars with electronic fobs instead of metal keys have been stolen

Mr Ghalley had fallen victim to a new type of car crime, as he discovered.

Modern cars are increasingly computerised, and in order to check for problems mechanics plug in to the car’s on-board computer. They also use this On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) system to create new keys, by plugging in a computer will which encode a blank key, allowing it to open and start the car.

These computers are used legitimately by locksmiths and car dealers, but have now leaked onto the black market, where criminals are using them.

Car crime has gone down in recent years, but in London, 39 per cent of cars stolen last year were taken without the owners’ keys being present, according to the Met Police.

“Vehicles are becoming more and more technological, and criminal networks are becoming more and more savvy to that technology. but as they develop, so will we and in partnership with manufacturers we will design out these problems,” the Met’s Detective Inspector Paul Fuller told Channel 4 News.

In a statement BMW said: “There is no specific BMW security issue here, this is something which affects many brands, however organised criminals have targeted particularly desirable cars, with higher value parts and that is why BMW is amongst the brands affected.

“No BMW built after September 2011 can be stolen using the method you have highlighted. For cars built before this date our investigations, jointly with the police, have identified late model BMW X5 and X6 as cars which have been focused on by organised criminals.

“We are now taking steps to mitigate against this type of theft for these two models and are contacting customers accordingly. “

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