Law enforcement officers in Osaka Prefecture have been increasingly on the alert to prevent car thefts using the so-called relay attack technique whereby criminals employ special electronic equipment to detect smart key signals to steal cars.

In such attacks, on the rise in the prefecture, criminals pick up radio signals emitted from smart keys using special electric wave amplifying devices and relay them to accomplices standing near the target cars. The accomplices, using a separate piece of equipment, then use the signals to unlock the cars and start the engines.

With weak radio signals that can only travel between about one and 1.5 meters, smart keys are thought to be safer than ordinary vehicle keys.

According to Nihon Bouhan Setsubi, a Tokyo-based security system provider, Chinese-made devices that capture key fob radio signals are coming into wider use, leading to an increase in relay attacks, especially in the United States and Europe.

The number of relay attack cases has been increasing also in Japan in recent years, according to informed sources.

Criminals use various techniques such as attempting to capture key fob radio signals by tailing drivers or by catching signals that can be detected through house entrances and windows.

In a case in which a man in the city of Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture, almost had a luxury car parked at his home stolen, images of a suspicious person holding devices, including what appears to be a radio transmitter, were taken by a security camera.

Minoru Kitazawa, a security system specialist at Nihon Bouhan Setsubi, said “keeping car keys in metal containers that block the signal is an effective way (to prevent such thefts at home),” He also noted that key cases that block the signals can be purchased in stores.

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