Hijacking crime stats

Car thieves are now using high-tech machines to hijack cars. Image: iStock

Here’s how thieves use high-technology devices to hijack cars

Recent reports show that hijackers use less aggression when stealing cars, they have evolved to high-tech machines.

Hijacking crime stats

Car thieves are now using high-tech machines to hijack cars. Image: iStock

The recently released crime stats in South Africa show how car hijacking has increased in recent years.

ALSO READ: LIST: Vehicles that are mostly targeted in hijackings in South Africa

Thieves getting high-tech devices for hijackings

The number of reported hijacking cases since the start of 2023 has slowed compared to a bleak year in 2022, hijackings are still on a high in South Africa.

Surprisingly, thieves are increasingly using high-tech tools to target weaknesses in the same sensors and computerised systems that were designed to help make our journeys safer and more comfortable.

This means that the same sensors, computers and data aggregation systems are what criminals now use to hijack cars.

ALSO READ: Crime stats: Here are the top 10 hijacking hotspots in South Africa

The convenience offered by the keyless entry system (KES), is one such example. 

KES enables drivers to passively lock, unlock, start and stop the engine by simply carrying the key fob along with its integrated signal transmitter.

The basic function of the system is for the car to detect the signal from the Free On Board (FOB) key system.

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Here is how thieves get smart with these devices

If the signal is strong enough, generally when the fob key is within one metre of the car, it will unlock and allow the engine to start, usually using a push-button system.

Hijackers on the KES typically use a method of amplifying and relaying the signal from the fob keys to the car. This “tricks” the car’s system into thinking that the fob is within one metre, and the system disarms.

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Owners can attempt to prevent these attacks by storing their fob keys in “Faraday pouches” when not in use. These pouches have conductive fibres in their lining that disrupt radio signals.

It’s also worth noting that the computers in our cars’ multiple Electronic Control Modules (ECMs) manage everything in the car.

All of these ECMs are programmed with large volumes of computer code, which, unfortunately, can contain vulnerabilities.

Recent crime stats show that hijackings have slightly decreased in South Africa. Image: iStock

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This hijacks can appear to be an instance of pointless vandalism at first. However, when the car disappears, it becomes clear that the damage had actually been part of a sophisticated car theft operation.

In this instance, car thieves removed the front bumper of the car to access the headlight assembly. This was done to access the ECU, which controls the lights.

This in turn allowed access to the widely used Controller Area Network (CAN bus). The CAN bus is the main interface designed to allow ECUs to communicate with each other.

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