Morris said it is impossible to know how many vehicles might have been stolen using these devices because no evidence is left behind. He said owners and law enforcement are often unaware of such technology existing, though the NICB first noted a rise in the use of such technology in 2014.
The “scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner,” NICB CEO Joe Wehrle said in a statement. “Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”
Wade Newton, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said cybersecurity continues to be one of the “top priorities” for the auto industry.
“Some automakers may include a series of redundant systems and mechanisms as one approach to enhancing vehicle safety,” Newton said in an emailed statement. “Our initial understanding of this particular tool is that it is a high-technology device similar to the old-fashioned threat of a lock pick or ‘slim jim.’
"Obviously, any of these devices in the wrong hands can be used for wrongdoing. The industry does not condone the release of information or the sale of equipment that would further facilitate those seeking to break into vehicles.”
'Tug of war'
Auto manufacturers must be diligent in making sure they adapt their technology to counter these devices, Morris said, while noting that thieves will be sure to do the same in response.
“It’s a matter of tug of war between manufacturers and thieves,” Morris said.
As for vehicle owners, Morris said they should keep valuable items out their vehicles, keep their key fobs on them at all times and should park in secure or crowded areas whenever possible. Police and vehicle owners should also keep an eye out for any suspicious activity near parked cars.
However, he said, completely preventing such thefts might prove to be impossible, as long as the thief is within a radius small enough to pick up on the key fob’s signal.
“If these thieves know the device works on a certain make and model, I don’t know there’s a lot you can do about it right now,” Morris said.
From a third party
NICB said in a statement that it obtained the device “via a third-party security expert from an overseas company” that provides “manufacturers and other anti-theft organizations the ability to test the vulnerability of various vehicles’ systems.”
Morris said that while thieves can purchase devices from various sources, a thief with skills in computer technology could build one on his own, making cracking down on the makers of the devices difficult.
“The manufacturers have made tremendous strides with their technology, but now they have to adapt and develop countermeasures as threats like this surface,” NICB COO Jim Schweitzer said in the bureau’s statement.