The arrest of Alan Watkins, the mastermind of a luxury car â€œringingâ€ scheme, brings to light a newly emerging illicit use of computer systems available on board a wide range of vehicles, as reported by The Telegraph.
With BMWs, Audis and Range Rovers as main targets, Watkinsâ€™ accomplices would block the remote control signal of the carsâ€™ locking system, enter the unlocked vehicles and hack into their computer system to find out their unique keys. The thieves would also plant a hidden GPS device in targeted cars so they could track them down later.
The timing of the actual thefts, together with the hack allowing access to the carsâ€™ keys eliminated the risk of damage to the stolen goods and ensured the continuation of this shady business â€œon an industrial scale over many years,â€ as stated by David Durose, prosecutor in the Watkins trial. â€œThe number of vehicles involved in this conspiracy is thought to be unprecedented in the experience of the Metropolitan police stolen vehicle unit. The expertise and quality of the ringing involved, particularly when there is evidence that Watkins did this himself, is also unprecedented.â€
A YouTube video apparently proving itâ€™s possible to break into a BMW in less than 3 minutes points to a theft mechanism involving breaking one of the vehiclesâ€™ windows that exploits a loophole into the carâ€™s internal ultrasonic sensor system, as reported by msnbc. Once access into the car is secured, the thieves would connect to the vehicleâ€™s computer system and generate a new key fob allowing them to snatch the car on the spot.
â€œThe battle against increasingly sophisticated thieves is a constant challenge for all car makers. Desirable, premium-branded cars, like BMW and its competitors, have always been targeted. BMW has been at the forefront of vehicle security for many years and is constantly pushing the boundaries of the latest defence systems. We work closely with the authorities and with other manufacturers to achieve this,â€ Gavin Ward, BMW’s UK media relations manager, told msnbc.