Three ways to use technology to foil car thieves

Across Ontario, automotive thefts have been on a sharp rise, and the numbers related to it paint a startling picture.

According to HelloSafe, an online insurance-comparison platform, there were 10,900 auto thefts reported to insurers in Ontario in 2021. This equates to one vehicle stolen every 48 minutes. Across Canada, auto thefts cost $1 billion annually, with more than half of that amount covering insurance payouts.

And this trend in stolen vehicles continues to rise sharply in 2022. According to data from the Toronto Police Service, there have already been 3,385 auto thefts from Jan. 1 to May 22 — representing a year-over-year increase of 61 per cent.

What has precipitated this rise can be best understood as something of a perfect storm. A prolonged pandemic-induced shortage of microchips has sharply impacted new-vehicle production across the world, which has in turn increased the value of vehicles already on the road. At the same time, thieves have new technologies available to carry out “relay theft” whereby the radio frequency of a vehicle’s key fob is copied and used to activate vehicles with push-button starters.

Owners can do little to change the environment which has precipitated the dramatic rise in auto thefts, but there are many things they can do to make theft of their own vehicle harder to do.

One of the most popular options available today is IGLA, an anti-theft system that blocks the engine through intelligent algorithms, overriding the activation systems and ensuring the vehicle can’t be driven without system activation.

Vehicles equipped with an IGLA system can only be activated by having a secondary fob with the driver that the system detects, or by entering a pin code that utilizes a vehicle’s existing features in a specially sequenced order. An example of this could be pressing a volume control on the steering wheel, followed by activating the heated seats, defogger then fan controls. The sequencing options are infinite and the IGLA device can be installed anywhere in the vehicle and requires no extra wires, thus making it difficult for thieves to detect and disable.

IGLA systems also have an anti-hijack mode and, if it detects that it is being stolen, it will ask for the passcode to be provided within 300 meters of the vehicle or block the engine if not provided.

David Corak, president of DC Unlimited, a car security firm based in Brampton that sells and installs IGLA systems, said the costs can vary depending on the vehicle model but range around $600.

The IGLA system does not operate on all vehicles, given that it primarily is designed to work against relay theft, so vehicles still utilizing an ignition key would not be eligible. Corak also said that the IGLA system currently also does not work for battery electric vehicles.

While the mechanics of the powertrain system in an electric vehicle pose some security challenges, they also have distinct advantages when it comes to reducing the risk of theft. When an EV is charging, the cable locks to the charge connector and stays locked unless released by the key fob. Should a thief attempt to steal an EV by trying to cut the charging cable while a charge is taking place, they would expose themselves to a deadly high voltage.

As relay theft involves thieves picking up the radio frequency signal emitted by the wireless fob, taking measures to block the signal is important. Faraday pouches or boxes, which the fob is placed into, are made of materials that do not allow radio frequencies to be picked up by other devices.

Some people will try to use improvised Faraday boxes, like tin cans, but Corak said these need to be used with caution. “There’s no guarantee that those (homemade) options are going to work” he said. “In some cases, they block the signal but in other cases they don’t.”

Given the relative low cost of Faraday pouches, Corak recommends either buying a purpose-designed pouch or at the very least keeping your key fob a minimum of 10 feet away from any door or window where potential thieves can get close enough to pick up its signal .

Even with protective measures in place, vehicles may still be stolen. And if that does happen, GPS tracking devices let vehicles be located and often recovered.

Systems like the one made by Drone Mobile require a module to be installed somewhere discreet on a vehicle. The module has built-in LTE and GPS antennas which send the exact location of a vehicle to a smartphone with the Drone app installed.

The modules have an unlimited range. As many stolen vehicles, especially high-end luxury or performance vehicles, are destined for overseas, the port and warehouse areas around Montreal and Halifax are common locations for stolen vehicles from the Toronto area to be found.

Hot rides

The top three most stolen cars of the year in 2021 across Ontario, according to HelloSafe, are the 2018 Lexus RX, the 2019 Honda CR-V and the 2019 Honda Civic.


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