BMW says its cars in NZ should be safe from hackers

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 08:00 26/09/2012
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BMW says their cars are safer than ever.
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BMW says their cars are safer than ever.

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BMW New Zealand says it is not aware of the existence in this country of any "bypassing" tools that are being used to steal the luxury vehicles in the United Kingdom.

Reports from Europe claim BMW is launching an investigation into its vehicles' security after discovering a high- tech security loophole which has seen top-of-the-range cars driven away without the owners' keys.

Instead of the traditional metal key, many cars now have an electronic fob which opens and starts the car. The reports claim thieves have discovered how to create copies of these electronic keys.

Modern cars are increasingly computerised, and in order to check for problems mechanics plug in to the car's on-board computer.

They also use this on-board diagnostics (OBD) system to create new keys, by plugging in a computer which will encode a blank key, allowing it to open and start the car.

These computers are used legitimately by locksmiths and car dealers, but have now leaked onto the black market, where criminals are using them.

BMW New Zealand spokesman Ed Finn said his company was aware of the media reports suggesting BMW keys can be reprogrammed.

Additionally, his company was monitoring websites purporting to sell reprogramming tools, and which are offering them for around 8000 Euro.

"To date we have not seen any evidence that any of these bypassing tools are in New Zealand - nor are we aware of any conversions happening via this manner," said Mr Finn.

In addition, BMW New Zealand does not supply key blanks to the market, he added.

"A vehicle key is supplied pre- programmed with the key blank already cut when it is supplied to us.

"If someone wanted to purchase a key from a dealer, the dealer would first need to confirm the identity of the purchaser.

"Whilst one can purchase BMW- style key blanks, these are just a metal uncut key blade or the external plastic housing only - they do not contain any of the needed key electronics. So if the key blank is purchased, the buyer would still need to have the original key to swap the electronics from."

Mr Finn said BMW New Zealand was satisfied that the security risk in New Zealand from this form of key programming is negligible.

"But nonetheless we take any security risk very seriously," he added.

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In the UK, BMW owners have taken to the internet to complain about the ease with which they feel their cars have been stolen. Once such victim is Vinny Ghalley whose BMW was taken from outside his house in Maidenhead at 3am, while he - and his keys - were inside his home.

Mr Ghalley told Channel 4 TV 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," he recalled. "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."

Mr Ghalley had fallen victim to a new type of car crime, as he discovered.

"Vehicles are becoming more and more technological, and criminal networks are becoming more and more savvy to that technology," the Met's Detective Inspector Paul Fuller told Channel 4 News.

"But as they develop, so will we; and, in partnership with manufacturers, we will design out these problems,"

In a statement issued in the UK, BMW gave owners assurances.

"There is no specific BMW security issue here, this is something which affects many brands, however organised criminals have targeted particularly desirable cars, with higher value parts and that is why BMW is amongst the brands affected.

"No BMW built after September 2011 can be stolen using the method you have highlighted."

- Taranaki Daily News

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