The consumer rights BBC programme Watchdog highlighted a security issue that allows thieves to steal BMWs without the need to possess the owners keys. A new device, which is available to buy on the internet for around £6,000, allows thieves to create a blank copy of the original key in under a few minutes. The problem lies with the new type of high end cars that utilise a different type of electronic key fob to open and start the car. There is a computer on board in the car (called an On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) system) that lies under the bonnet that controls the electronic key and it communicates with it in order for it to start the car. This new plug-in device allows criminals to gain access to this onboard computer and re-programme the computer to process a blank key that will then start the car. This device was originally marketed for garages so that they would be able access the cars without the owners, when they were servicing or working on their cars.
BMW responded to the security issue by saying, “Certain criminal threats, like the one you have highlighted, simply do not exist when cars are designed and developed. This does not mean the car companies have done anything wrong, neither are they legally obliged to take any action. However, BMW has always taken security extremely seriously and has worked closely with police forces around the country (and the world), and with the industry body, the SMMT (The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) to understand and mitigate against car crime wherever possible. Therefore, when we were made aware of this new form of attack, we took it very seriously and immediately launched an investigation. There is no specific BMW security issue here. We, like our customers and those of other manufacturers, are victims of this new hi-tech organised crime. All our cars meet all security standards and regulations, but as responsible manufacturers we are looking at ways of mitigating against this new kind of attack. We are already in the process of enhancing the protection of pre-September 2011 X5 and X6 models and have been contacting owners and carrying out the necessary work accordingly. None of our latest models – new 3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series and 7 Series – nor any other BMW built after September 2011 can be stolen using the method highlighted.”
Watchdog warned BMW owners that any car priced between £17K and £100K could be affected and marques between the years of 2006 and 2011 were especially at risk. One such owner, Vinny Ghalley, found that his £30,000 BMW had been stolen from outside his house in Maidenhead at 3am, while he – and his keys – were inside. Mr Ghalley told Channel 4 News, “It’s chilling to think that a car that’s supposed to be 5-star security rated can be stolen in 15 minutes. It was 8.30am and I was getting ready for work, I looked out and saw the car was missing. I thought someone had borrowed it, then it sunk in that it had been stolen. I checked the keys. I had the main key in my jacket pocket, and the others I never use. The keys hadn’t moved overnight and no-one had got into the house, so they’ve obviously used some kind of advanced tech to drive car away.”
BMW have issued this statement on their website to concerned owners:
‘You might have heard about reports in the media about BMWs being stolen by a new kind of theft. BMW, like other manufacturers, has become the target of organised criminal operations who are targeting specific vehicles and using highly sophisticated equipment illegally to steal vehicles.
BMW prides itself on its vehicle security systems and all BMWs meet all UK and global security standards. Our engineers and technicians review all aspects of our vehicles constantly, including security systems, and after extensive research we are clear that none of our latest models – new 1 Series Hatch, 3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series and 7 Series – nor any other BMW built after September 2011 can be stolen using the method highlighted. However, as responsible manufacturers we are looking at ways of mitigating against this new kind of attack. We are now in the process of offering to any concerned customers of targeted models, extra technical measures which will mean the car cannot be taken using the piece of equipment highlighted in these stories, although of course there is no such thing as the unstealable car.
If you are concerned about this issue, you can contact our Customer Service department on 0800 083 4397 or your local BMW dealer, either of which will happy to advise.
We also recommend following general advice given by the Police:
– When using remote locking, ensure the car has actually locked by checking a door.
– Be careful with your keys and who you give them too keys (e.g. valet parking). There is a risk that they could be cloned.
– Where ever possible park your car out of sight, in a locked garage or under the cover of CCTV cameras.
In addition: We recommend servicing your car at authorised BMW dealerships on a regular basis to give the opportunity of further enhancing theft protection.’
BMW Group UK