Criminals can steal your possessions without even needing to touch them. . .
Technology is designed to make our lives easier, but unfortunately it can also be exploited by people for malevolent ends. Cyberattacks dominate the news, stealing vast amounts of valuable data. But what about our physical possessions? In the UK’s West Midlands, two criminals managed to unlock their victim’s Mercedes without actually touching it. They used an approach called relay crime which, according to a survey by Tracker, was responsible for 66 per cent of stolen vehicle recovery thefts in 2016. But how does it work, and what can be done to protect against it?
The race to remedy relay crime
Relay crime is worryingly simple, involving two electronic signal relay devices. The first receives the signal from the key inside the house, and transmits it to a second device which acts as a fake (but fully functional) key. So, what can be done about it? The UK police force suggests fitting tracking devices to cars, and moving keys out of hallways and further into the house. Keys can also be placed in metal tins, metallic signal blocking pouches, or, if you’ve got a reliable memory, in the microwave. Of course, these are rudimentary safeguards, and relay theft isn’t just something that could happen to your car. Criminals could apply the method to anything that uses a key with an electronic connection. This might include security badges or fobs that enable employees to access equipment, office buildings, labs and storage containers, for example. Viewed in this wider context, the potential risk to businesses and other organisations is clear.
A possible solution could be found in blockchain – by controlling network communications and knowing exactly who is accessing what and automatically flagging suspicious activity. Machine learning could also be utilised as it is particularly good at recognising anomalies, and this has been proven to be a powerful tool for detecting online fraud. Another layer of protection could involve writing APIs with embedded security. Prevention is, after all, better than cure.
Disrupted, digitalised crime
In the digital age, security is a prevalent issue. As technology diversifies, so do the methods used by criminals to commit illegal acts. By intercepting signals and hacking into systems, they incur less risk than traditional approaches. The popularity of what can only be described as innovative techniques shows that criminals are asking themselves how they can manipulate the digital sphere. The onslaught of cybersecurity breaches and hacking scandals stands testament to this, but the growth of relay crime shows a whole new trend of illegal activity taking hold. Instead of moving entirely into digital, criminals are committing traditional crimes in a stealthier, more effective way. Eventually, theft could take place without requiring the physical presence of a human. Imagine if someone hacked into your self driving car and drove it out of your driveway like a remote controlled toy?
While the traditional key won’t be abandoned any time soon, there are already some who unlock their houses with implanted RFID chips. If criminals can intercept the signal for a key, then surely they could do the same for an electronic tag. Disrupted crime necessitates the application of new, multi layered security measures to prevent these interceptions. Whether the solution incorporates the use of blockchain, machine learning or APIs, it’s not just about how these technologies can defend against crime but how they are deployed in the first place. The ability of criminals to exploit systems could be the catalyst for closer attention to security details, and this can only be a positive thing.
Businesses that can successfully implement these preventative and responsive measures won’t just guard themselves against a new wave of crime – they could also use their knowledge to develop services for other companies. This could involve developing a product themselves, or simply offering an advice platform. Of course, while some businesses will recognise the opportunity to capitalise on crime prevention and response, others that fail to do so will be left at obvious risk. It isn’t just about recognising that crime is changing, it’s about adapting existing security protocols so that they remain effective.
Disruptive digital technology is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it can be vital in protecting both our digital and physical assets, but on the other, it can be just as effective at handing them over to tech savvy criminals. This doesn’t bode well for a world in which everything could have a digital identity. If major tech firms and official crime prevention organisations combined their efforts, solutions marry extensive policing experience with innovation. The challenge is to find the most effective methods that can identify and flag criminal activity. Given that relay theft can happen in approximately 60 seconds, they’ll need to do it fast.
What other technologies could be applied to securing our physical possessions? Has the drive to protect data distracted us from other hybrid criminal methods? One day, could all non-personal crimes be committed remotely? Comment with your thoughts and opinions.