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Tesla warns of theft risk through relay attacks, shares ‘tips’ to help prevent

Tesla’s vehicles get rarely stolen thanks to its always-on advanced GPS tracking feature, but some more sophisticated thieves are still able to get away with it.

Recently, there have been strings of Tesla thefts that appear to be organized and Tesla responded with a software update to help owners prevents theft. The automaker has now sent an email to share ‘tips’ on how to use the update and secure vehicles.

Last year, we reported on two separate events of new Tesla vehicles being stolen in Europe and they were never recovered.

It was never clear how exactly they were stolen. In each case, the key fobs weren’t stolen and the vehicles not trackable, which means that the thieves either have an unknown sophisticated way to start and drive the car, or they managed to quietly tow it.

The leading theory is that they gained access through hacking the key fob or Tesla app of the owner and they quickly removed the Sim card or used a GPS blocker to prevent tracking.

The vehicles were likely quickly dismantled for parts and we got proof of that after a Tesla Model S stolen in the Netherlands was found dismantled inside a truck trying to get into Germany.

The thefts continued in different countries and it became clear that the thieves were using a “relay attack”, which consists of virtually “boosting” the signal from a key fob, which would normally be too far away to unlock the car, to another location near the vehicle.

With passive entry, Tesla owners can just walk up to their cars to unlock and start it. A thief capable of recreating the signal from that key fob is then able to enter and drive away. To be fair, that’s something that any car with the same feature can be vulnerable to – not just Tesla’s.

Once in the car, they have to find a way to also block the GPS signal or Tesla owners could simply guide the police by tracking the car with mobile app, like many did before.

The latest string of thefts happened in the UK earlier this year when several Tesla vehicles disappeared.

Tesla has now sent an email to local owners to share ‘tips’ on how to secure their vehicles:

“We would like to share some tips for ensuring the safety of your Tesla. When enabled, our Passive Entry setting will automatically unlock the doors of your Model S when you approach it with your key. Relay attacks, a type of vehicle break-in that can be targeted at vehicles from many manufacturers including Tesla, allows an attacker to transmit a signal from your key in one location to your car in another location, thereby creating the potential for unauthorised access and entry.

You can decrease the likelihood of unauthorised entry by disabling Passive Entry when parked in public spaces or storing your key in a holder which blocks electromagnetic transmissions, such as a RFID-blocking sleeve or Faraday cage.”

If you want to disable Passive Entry, Tesla says to go to Controls > Settings > Doors & Locks > Passive Entry > OFF.

But if you want to keep the convenience of passive entry, you can also store your key fob in some very simple signal blocking pouch when you are not using it.

Electrek’s Take

Personally, I’d go with the pouch because I really enjoy the passive entry option, but I am not even sure I need it because weirdly enough, it seems like all those thefts are only happening in Europe.

We have heard of plenty of Tesla vehicles being stolen in North America, but never with relay attacks and they have mostly been recovered – again with owners tracking the thieves through the Tesla app.

Does Europe simply have more sophisticated and organized thieves who are targeting Tesla vehicles with relay attacks?

If you have any insight on that, please let us know in the comment section below.

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