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'There is no silver bullet solution': cybersecurity expert weighs in on how to tackle vehicle thefts


The federal government and stakeholders attended a national summit Thursday on ways to combat auto theft, a growing problem across Canada.

The feds are committing $28 million to help increase capacity of the Canada Border Services Agency, to conduct more investigations and enhance collaboration and intelligence sharing on an international scale.

The government is also looking to crack down on the sale of technology used to steal devices, such as the “Flipper Zero” which is a device used to steal vehicles by copying wireless signals for remote keyless entry.

Some say hosting a summit and committing $28 million towards the problem areas is a good step, but wonder whether it’s enough to stop auto theft from happening.

“Auto industry theft in Canada has become a cottage industry for crime,” said Windsor West New Democrat MP, Brian Masse, who notes that cottage industry is thriving.

According to a new study, a vehicle is stolen in Canada every five minutes, and more than 100,000 automobiles are stolen in Canada each year.

It’s happening in Windsor, too, with Windsor police reporting an average of 745 stolen cars per year.

Masse says the federal government has underfunded the monitoring of exports at shipping yards for a long time and to date, isn’t going about combatting the issue in the right ways.

“Fix your damn equipment, that’s the number one thing. $28 million is fine, but it depends on what you’re doing with it,” Masse said.

The MP cites a recent example, which according to the customs and immigration union, technology used in Windsor to scan trucks has been sent to the port of Montreal, because their technology is broken.

“The broken equipment is in Montreal, and the solution for the government is to move it from Windsor. Well that’s not acceptable,” said Masse.

An automotive cybersecurity expert says fighting auto theft is like a game of cat and mouse between the automakers, regulators and criminals. Once a new way to stop auto theft is developed, thieves find a new way to steal cars.

“There is no silver bullet here that can solve all of our problems,” said Mitra Mirhassani, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Windsor — and part of the Shield Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence.

She said tackling the problem all starts with the parts supplier industry.

“More and more thought has to go into incorporating cybersecurity features into the design at the very early stage of the vehicles,” she said.

Mirhassani says they have the capacity in Windsor to provide risk assessments to parts manufacturers free of charge. A program, in conjunction with Invest Windsor Essex, allows parts suppliers to get a free cybersecurity risk assessment in Windsor.

But she believes slowing auto theft rates will require a lot of cooperation between security professionals, manufacturers, government, regulators, and law enforcement agencies.

There are some consumer ready technologies that can help address the problem, like Faraday bags, which can block a key-fob signal from being transmitted.

Aside from that, Mirhassani says there’s very little vehicle owners can do.

“Researchers and industry are moving fast to address it and fix it,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean it’s going to end. Ever.” Top Stories

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