Brand new Jaguar for £2 -- the car thieves' secret

Car manufacturers compromise security with basic remote locking systems

Armed only with a £2 infra-red transceiver or a Palm handheld, thieves can now break into luxury cars with ease.

A spate of recent car robberies has sparked fears that cars' remote locking systems are extremely vulnerable to attack. The victim of the latest such break-in has reported to police that an intruder managed to open the door to his remotely-locked Jaguar in order to rob him of his Rolex watch. Both the remote locking system and the alarm on many cars are activated and deactivated when a particular numerical key is transmitted. The only difficulty is working out what the number is and then mimicking the precise signal it is captured in.

Wireless security specialist at Oceanus Security, John Everitt, confirms that the technology required to remotely de-activate a car's central looking system not only exists but is also widely available. "In theory you could intercept any radio message and then copy it in order to break into a car. The technology needed to do this is also probably commercially available as it operates at a fairly low frequency range."

According to Everitt the technology required is not exactly high-end either. "The transceiver devices to do this can be bought for about £15 on the high-street and you could probably cobble one together yourself for about £2 with the right tools and technical know-how. You could even do it with a Palm, another PDA or anything with a serial port really."

Another computer security expert with experience of military radio technology confirms that infra-red security is something that car manufacturers have largely ignored. "A car thief can simply look at a particular model and identify its central locking systems radio frequency," says Ian Johnston-Bryden, also of Oceanus security. "Then they can just lie in wait for a particular car to come along. They can even sit in another car with the device on their lap. Most will work up to 400 or 500 yards away."

A spokesman for Jaguar disputes that a Jaguar central locking system could be compromised at all. He says, "As far as I'm aware there is nothing that could cope with a Jaguar anti-locking system. I know some other manufacturers have suffered with this problem but we have not ourselves."

Johnston-Bryden challenges Jaguar's confident position. "Most cars use a very crude and simple system. Top-end cars will undoubtedly start to develop more complex systems, but no-one seems to have worked out how easy it is to monitor radio wave."