can-bus attacks and other carjacking methods gaining traction in south africa

The South African Police (SAPS) recently published its crime statistics for Q1 2022/2023, showing that reports of hijackings across the country have risen by a dramatic 14% year-on-year.

These findings are mirrored by Dialdirect’s insurance claim data, said the insurer, who warns that criminals are now starting to target high-end vehicles using a variety of advanced methods.

“Criminals are using technical equipment to either relay the signal from the key back to the vehicle, or to access the Can-Bus of the vehicle through the electrical harness, and then emulate an emergency start protocol,” said Anneli Retief, head of Dialdirect.

The “Can-Bus” is the network protocol that manages all of the vehicle’s electronic signals, and cars equipped with keyless entry or emergency start functionality are generally the targets for these attacks.

“When it comes to both hijackings and relay attacks, it’s crucial for motorists to be vigilant, understand the modus operandi of criminals, and take proactive steps to avoid falling victim,” said Retief.

Relay and can-bus attacks

According to Retief, criminals performing relay attacks tend to work in teams.

Usually at least one of these perpetrators is in possession of an amplifying device and they will walk close to an unsuspecting individual when they exit and leave their vehicle to read the signal the key fob transmits when the individual locks their car.

The device records the unique signal and transfers it to a duplicate key fob, which another criminal then uses to gain access to the car and drive off.

“It’s wise to always keep an eye out for suspicious individuals and be even more alert in high-risk areas, but the most effective way of avoiding these attacks is to disable the key fob transmission,” said Ibrahim Kurubally, spokesperson for the South African Insurance Crime Bureau (SAICB).

“Most vehicle manufacturers make it possible for vehicle owners to disable and enable this feature at the press of a button. It may be a slight inconvenience, but it’s well worth it if your vehicle’s security is at stake.”

can-bus attacks and other carjacking methods gaining traction in south africa

Hijackings

Unlike relay attacks, hijackers use a wide range of tactics to take advantage of a victim in certain situations.

These include:

  • Bumper bashing method – Bumping into a victim’s vehicle as if it was an accident
  • Imposter method – Acting as officials to pull notorists over or gain access to properties
  • Driveway method – Boxing victims into their own properties when they leave or get home
  • Test drive method – Posing as a potential buyer and test driving a vehicle with no intention of returning it
  • Follow-me-home method – Identifying a high-value target in a public space and then following them for a better hijacking opportunity
  • Breakdown method – Criminal acting as if their vehicle has broken down, getting victims to pull over to help, or to slow down to drive around them
  • Slow-moving traffic method – Staking out a spot where traffic is moving slowly, or following a target at a distance, later moving closer and striking at a traffic light
  • Blockage method (recent trend) – Attacking victims when deliveries are made, keeping security gates open, and forcing those inside the property to comply; also used on narrow roads
  • Good samaritan method – Convincing targets that something is wrong with their vehicles or taking a part off the vehicle when it’s stationary, and then driving next to and showing it to their targets as if they picked it up to get them to pull over

If you are caught in a hijacking, the SAICB recommends that you remain calm, immediately put your hands up and keep them visible at all times, do not speak too fast or make sudden movements, do not challenge the hijacker or resist their demands, leave everything in the vehicle when you get out, and avoid eye contact.

can-bus attacks and other carjacking methods gaining traction in south africa

Avoiding the situation

To protect yourself from being hijacked as best as possible, Dialdirect provided the following general dos and don’ts:

  • Know your neighbours
  • Keep your driveway well lit and free of hiding spots
  • Plan your route to avoid dangerous times and areas
  • Time your approach to traffic lights so that they go green when you reach them
  • Keep your valuables out of sight as criminals like to “window shop” before striking
  • Shake up your schedule and don’t drive the same roads at the same times every day
  • Always be alert to your surroundings, especially when slowing down or standing still
  • If you suspect you are being followed, make a series of false turns, and if you are still being tailed, drive to the nearest police station
  • With automatic gates, stop in the road and wait for the gate to open before turning into the driveway
  • With manual gates, stop in front of the gate, check your surroundings, leave the key in the ignition and car running, close the door, and move as swiftly as possible

Directly following a hijacking, Dialdirect said you must phone the police and activate the vehicle’s tracking device if it’s fitted with one.

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