Friday, December 3, 2021

Car Thieves Using AirTags

Laura Nicolle (via MacRumors, Hacker News, Reddit):

Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them. Brand name ‘air tags’ are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots. Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s residence, where they are stolen from the driveway.

Thieves typically use tools like screwdrivers to enter the vehicles through the driver or passenger door, while ensuring not to set off alarms. Once inside, an electronic device, typically used by mechanics to reprogram the factory setting, is connected to the onboard diagnostics port below the dashboard and programs the vehicle to accept a key the thieves have brought with them.

Dan Moren:

In theory, Apple has measures in place to alert people when an AirTag that doesn’t belong to them is found at their location, but even after the company revised how those alerts work it seems that they may not be enough. In June, the company also said that it would build an app for Android phones to detect AirTags and release it “later this year,” but that’s still in the offing.


Update (2021-12-13): Dave Mark:

Of all the suggestions on protecting your vehicle, this seems the best suggestion:

Install a lock on the data port. This simple device can be purchased online and blocks access to the computer port where the thieves gain access to reprogram the vehicle’s keys.

Here’s a video that talks about the OBD port (the data port called out above) and one device in particular you can use to lock the port.

Personally, I think an OBD lock is far more convenient than a steering wheel lock, since you only need to remove the lock when you need to access the port (for service, say).

Update (2021-12-21): Juli Clover:

According to a Fox 2 Detroit report, Nelson visited the Great Lakes Crossing shopping center in Auburn Hills, where he spent about two hours. After departing, he got a notification on his phone that informed him he was being tracked by an unknown AirTag.

Nelson was able to tap on the notification, and his iPhone provided him with the option to play a sound on the AirTag, which is one of the safety features that Apple has made available in addition to the tracking notifications. Following the sound the AirTag emitted, Nelson found it under the drain cap in the trunk of his car, which had required the thieves to unscrew the cap and place it inside.

Update (2022-01-03): See also: Ryan Mac and Kashmir Hill, John Gruber, Bruce Schneier.

Update (2024-04-01): Christopher Boyd:

Researchers demonstrated how this compromise of the keyless system works in practice. Though light on details, Bloomberg mentions it is a relay attack. This is a fairly common method used by people in the car research realm to try and pop locks.

Juli Clover:

Thieves in Montreal, Canada have been using Apple’s AirTags to facilitate vehicle theft, according to a report from Vermont news sites WCAX and NBC5 (via 9to5Mac). Police officers in Burlington, Vermont have issued a warning about AirTags for drivers who recently visited Canada.

11 Comments RSS · Twitter

Can’t innovate, my Aston Martin! Where the hell did it go? Aw man.

This news report feels off. You can buy a very precise, tine GPS tracker for like 40 bucks. You can buy a less precise tracker for 5 bucks. Why in the world would anyone use an imprecise AirTag that costs 30 bucks? And that can probably be linked to an Apple account that's associated with me? If I wanted to track a car in order to steal it, that would be my literal last option.

Also, there are five incidents of this ostensibly happening. How many cars were stolen in the same region during the same time frame? A hundred times more? A thousand times more? Is this even a thing?

I feel like the only reason this is "news" is that it possibly, tangentially involves Apple.

(The answer is that more than 2000 cars have been stolen in the same region over the whole year, so extrapolating from five incidents since September, that would mean that about 1% of car thefts used this kind of approach.)

And nothing about the fact that a car can be reprogram at will to accept any key…

News should rather focus on that issue first, as it is the root of the problem. If thieve where not able to reprogram the car easily, tracking them would be pointless.

There's a strange dissonance between apples privacy marketing, and them selling tracking equipment.

@Plume For the thefts using regular GPS trackers, the owners did not receive notifications on their phone, so they have no idea what happened. This is a story because they know, because AirTag makes it easier, and because Apple.

@Jean-Daniel I go back and forth on whether reprogramming is the real issue. It’s basically like the “secure golden key.” Obviously, it will get out somehow, but nobody wants a bricked car, either.

What fan android users do to see that they're not tracked by an air tag?

It's silly to blame the theft of those cars on AirTags.
It's just happened that they were used in a handful of cases.
They thieves probably also used their iPhones. It was not stolen because iPhones are so good.

If AirTags and iPhones were not available some other devices would be used.

Why did they chose to use AirTags?, maybe to try it out, maybe because they already had them, maybe because they are dumb, maybe because it's trendy, who cares.

Anti-theft measures should not rely on the absence of AirTags on the market.

@ Dmitri surely they chose AirTags in part because of Apple's value proposition of AirTags: a massive peer-to-peer network where you can keep tracking the tags without the need for cellular, etc. All it takes is for the car owner or someone nearby to have another Apple device.


Presumably, a problem that is obviated by the Apple Car.

If your car doesn't actually exist yet, nobody can steal it.

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