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Stolen in Less Than 60 Seconds – How Key Cloning is Making Car Crime Easier & How You Can Protect Your Car

Car key hacking, also known as key cloning, is a way for car thieves to bypass your vehicle’s security measures and it’s a rapidly growing problem.

While keyless car entry is a boon for most of us, it’s also an opportunity for thieves to strike.

We don’t have to fumble with a key or press a button on the fob since the key emits a signal that your car will detect when the key is close.

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However, that means car thieves can intercept and manipulate this signal, allowing them to gain access to most modern vehicles.

The Drivers Instructors Association says that 130,000 cars were stolen in 2023 in the UK – that’s 15 per hour. It’s also double the number for 2022. In the US the volume of cars stolen exceeded 1 million vehicles in 2023.

If you don’t want to become a statistic, you’ll need to understand how easily it is for thieves to use key cloning and steal your car. It works like this:

  • The thief will pick up the signal from the key if it is left near our front door, for example, use a relay device to boost the signal
  • Thieves can use a handheld device, known as an emulator, or use an aerial to boost the signal
  • Since the signal has been boosted, the thief doesn’t need the key – the car’s security system believes the key is nearby and unlocks its doors.

It really is that simple.

But there are steps you can take to protect your car – and here we explain what you can do.

How immobilisers can deter key cloning

While keyless entry systems offer convenience, they lack the robust security of traditional car keys which is where immobilisers will help.

These electronic devices act as an additional layer of security, preventing the engine from starting even if the car is unlocked.

Immobilisers work by requiring a unique code or signal, often through a PIN pad, smartphone app, or proximity sensor, before the engine can be started.

It’s this extra step that will hinder thieves who have used key cloning to gain access.

Ghost immobilisers and trackers

While immobilisers create a strong defence against key cloning, you could also add an impressive – and invisible – layer of security with a ‘ghost immobiliser’.

It’s a great term to describe something that is virtually undetectable to thieves.

These ghost systems will use hidden buttons, phone apps, and even fingerprint recognition to disarm the immobiliser before the engine can be started.

For a double-whammy of extra security, adding a GPS tracker will see the car’s location being transmitted should the thieves manage to start the car.

That signal will be used by the police to find the car and, hopefully, the thieves that have taken it.

How to protect your car from theft

Here are some key steps you can take to safeguard your car against key cloning and other car theft methods:

  • Park in well-lit areas: Thieves often target vehicles parked in secluded areas with limited visibility. Choose secure parking spaces with CCTV cameras whenever possible
  • Invest in an immobiliser: As mentioned above, an immobiliser is a crucial security upgrade for any car – especially keyless models
  • Consider a ghost immobiliser or tracker: You could opt for these advanced security systems for extra security
  • Be vigilant: Remain aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious activity near your car
  • Store your key fob securely: When at home, avoid leaving your key fob near windows or doors, as thieves can potentially amplify the signal to steal your car. Use a Faraday bag or even a tin.
  • Thatcham-approved tracker: Using a Thatcham-approved tracker is an effective way to prevent theft from happening. (Thatcham is a charity that tests car security devices).

You may have also noticed recently that drivers are also using wheel clamps and steering wheel locks to prevent their cars from being taken.

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Staying ahead of the curve

The battle against car theft is an ongoing battle and while key cloning presents a big threat, the advances in car security will help.

Technology like immobilisers and ghost systems offer effective countermeasures and simple tricks such as keeping a key fob in a device to prevent the signal from being picked up will help.

It’s by understanding and using the latest technology – and not just relying on what the car manufacturer has added – that you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to car theft.

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