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Vehicle safety body Thatcham Research has announced a series of updates to its mandatory car security standards focussing on digital threats.

The organisation’s New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA) programme will be revised in 2019 to include tougher measures around keyless entry systems – known as relay attacks – and other methods of automotive cyber crime.

It specifically cited hacking vehicles via their OBD port and the practice of jamming, whereby criminals hide a signal-blocking device in a residential street or car park, which prevents the locking signal from standard remote fobs from reaching the car.

The measures will be incorporated into Thatcham’s official assessment of UK vehicle insurance groups.

“Car crime is on the increase, with intelligence suggesting that electronic compromise is a factor in as many as one in four vehicle thefts,” said chief technical officer, Richard Billyeald.

“In the 1990s, the NVSA effectively brought an end to a car crime epidemic by introducing alarms and double-locking door functions, amongst other measures.

“Initiated in 1992, a year which saw 620,000 car thefts, this approach was instrumental in driving theft levels down by 80% up to 2016. In the same way, collaborative and concerted action from Thatcham Research, carmakers, Police and insurers will close the digital vulnerabilities exploited by today’s criminal gangs.

“CCTV footage of criminal gangs exploiting a vulnerability in keyless entry systems has been highly visible in recent months. However, we estimate that only 1% of cars on the road have this technology.

“Carmakers are already introducing keys with motion sensors which deactivate when stored, and new secure signal transmission technologies. In the short term, while these counter-measures come into the market, concerned drivers should contact their dealer to discuss the digital functionality of their cars.

“The online availability of tools which criminals can plug into vehicles to programme a false key is also a concern. We support recent calls from the Police for closer regulation of the sale of these devices, which have no use outside of a licensed bodyshop or garage.”