This "Mystery Device" Can Unlock and Start Your Vehicle

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says new technology is being used to not only unlock and open vehicles, but to also start and steal them.

NICB recently obtained one of the so-called “mystery devices” that the public was first warned about over two years ago (release). At the time, thieves were being seen on security cameras across the country, using unknown devices to unlock vehicles and steal valuables inside. In recent months, NICB has noted reports of thieves not only opening the vehicles, but also starting them and driving away.

The device obtained by NICB was purchased via a third-party security expert from an overseas company. It was developed by engineers in an effort to provide manufacturers and other anti-theft organizations the ability to test the vulnerability of various vehicles’ systems. Called a “Relay Attack” unit, this particular model only works on cars and trucks that use a keyless remote and a push-button ignition.

In a series of unscientific tests at different locations over a two-week period, 35 different makes and models of cars, SUVs, minivans and a pickup truck were tested. We partnered with NICB member company CarMax, because they are the nation’s largest used car retailer and have nearly every make and model in their inventory. Tests were also done at a new car dealership, an independent used car dealer, at an auto auction and on NICB employee vehicles and ones owned by private individuals.

The vehicles were tested to see if the device could:
open the door
start the vehicle
drive it away
turn off and restart the engine without the original fob present

The NICB was able to open 19 (54 percent) of the vehicles and start and drive away 18 (51 percent) of them. Of the 18 that were started, after driving them away and turning off the ignition, the device was used to restart 12 (34 percent) of the vehicles.

NICB says there are a number of different devices believed to be offered for sale to thieves. Some use different technology and may work on different makes and models and ignition systems. More expensive models may have a greater range and better capabilities for opening and starting a vehicle.

Click to see the video report.