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New high-tech car theft trend to watch out for in South Africa

With more and more modern cars now being capable of supporting an internet connection for features such as over-the-air software updates and in-cabin Wi-Fi, cyberattacks on their Electronic Control Modules (ECMs) are becoming a prevalent method for stealing them.

ECMs can remotely manage the engine, transmission, powertrain, brakes, suspension, and more, presenting a target for clever criminals to hack and copy a vehicle’s credentials and data via an internet connection in order to bypass security measures, track its exact location, and clone its key signal to easily gain access, said car insurance experts MotorHappy.

Another car theft method that has gained popularity in recent times is hacking a vehicle’s keyless-entry system (KES), so much so that Toyota created several enhanced safety upgrades specifically for vehicles in South Africa to reduce the chances of their KES being compromised.

Keyless cars are most commonly stolen via a method called a relay hack, which involves criminals picking up on the transmitted signal of the original key, diffusing it to a relay box being held by a second companion who is positioned closer to the car, which sends a message to the vehicle that the key is nearby, causing it to unlock, said MotorHappy.

Key jamming is a well-known technique, too. In this procedure, the hackers intercept the fob’s signal which prevents the owner from locking their car, giving thieves easy access.

Protecting yourself from car theft

The best way of protecting yourself against car theft is to have comprehensive car insurance that will cover you in the event that the unfortunate happens.

If this is unfeasible for you, or if you want to take a few additional steps to keep yourself and your wheels safe when out and about, MotorHappy provided the following tips:

  • Disable the keyless-entry system
  • Install an extra immobiliser or alarm
  • Use an old-school steering wheel lock
  • Regularly update your car’s security software
  • Use a signal-blocking key case (Faraday pouch)
  • Always double-check that your car doors are locked before walking away by tugging on the handles
  • When at home, store the key as far away from the car as possible to reduce connectivity between the two

“While you might think that having a car with the latest high-end security features protects you, this is not necessarily the case as car thieves become increasingly tech-savvy,” said MotorHappy.

“In fact, the very sensors, computers, and data aggregation systems that were created to protect cars are now being used to steal cars.”

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