Cyber expert says car hacking a “wake-up call” as cases rise

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Thursday 12 April 2018

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An automotive cybercrime expert has used a West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s summit on motor vehicle theft to warn that security isn’t keeping pace with technology developments in cars.

Professor Siraj Shaikh spoke at the forum, organised by the region’s crime commissioner David Jamieson and held at Coventry University, which saw vehicle manufacturers, crime and cybersecurity specialists from across the UK debate issues facing the car industry.

In the West Midlands Police force area the number of cars recorded as stolen in the last two years has nearly doubled.

According to police records, in 2015 there were 5,344 cars stolen. In 2017 there were 9,451 cars stolen.

Nationally car crime is also increasing. The recent rise follows substantial progress made in the 10 years from 2003 – 2013 when car thefts were reduced by around 75% in the West Midlands.

Mr Jamieson called for car manufacturers at the event, including BMW, Ford, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Audi, to increase security so vehicle crime doesn’t continue to rise.
The PCC also called for a new law to ensure electronic devices, used by criminals to steal cars, are only sold to mechanics, experts and auto locksmiths who are registered with a recognised trade association. Mr Jamieson wants key cloning gadgets to be removed from sale on the mass market.

Professor Siraj Shaikh, an expert in systems security from Coventry University’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities, said a rise in cases of keyless theft should be a wake-up call for carmakers and an impetus for them to work with cyber specialists to boost vehicles’ security.

Professor Siraj Shaikh

Vehicles are changing, and quickly. We love the gadgetry that brings comfort and convenience to our user experience, whether it’s keyless entry or connecting our smart device to our car.

But cybersecurity in the automotive industry is not keeping pace with the rate at which this connectivity is being brought into our vehicles. That’s an opportunity for criminals.

We know, for example, that something as fundamental as keyless entry systems in many cars are vulnerable from relay attacks using radio frequency. That alone is a massive wake-up call for the industry, but there are many other entry points in a car for hackers to launch more sophisticated attacks, including via Bluetooth and wireless tech – each of which can potentially be used to access and manipulate a car’s control units.

Events like this summit are crucial in bringing industry, the authorities and academia together to explore how these vulnerabilities can be tackled. Better regulation and standards around vehicles’ cybersecurity is needed, as well as support for the sector to upskill and ensure software science is used to bring rigour into the design of security systems at an early stage.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson

The recent rise in car thefts is becoming an epidemic.It is extremely worrying to see all the hard work of the last 10 years starting to be undone.

We must not sit back and watch as this issue worsens. I want more to be done to protect cars from criminals. 

Whilst I’ll be expecting the police to tackle the problem head on and to continue to make arrests, it is also not good enough for manufacturers to sell vehicles worth tens of thousands of pounds if that car can be stolen from a driveway in under 60 seconds.

Now is the time for car manufacturers to take action and prevent us from returning to levels of vehicle theft not seen since 2003.

The UK government recently issued guidance to the automotive industry in an effort to bolster cybersecurity in the sector as vehicles become increasingly smart, connected and automated.


For further press information, please contact Alex Roache, Interim Head of News, Coventry University, on 02477655050 or email or Alison Martin, press officer, on 02477659752 or email

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