If you’re the kind of person who’s constantly hunting for your own keys, AirTags seem like a godsend: A compact device that can be tracked nearly anywhere in the world, without a costly GPS or data subscription? Incredible. Unfortunately, it seems like the kind of people on the hunt for other people’s keys feel the same way.
A new report from the York Regional Police in Aurora, Ontario identified five separate incidents where thieves have surreptitiously slipped an AirTag on to a “high-end vehicle” with the intent to steal it. The thieves’ technique is to leave the tracker somewhere on a target vehicle, then follow its location in Apple’s Find My app to discover where it’s parked. From the report:
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. Once the new key is programmed, the vehicle will start and the thieves drive it away.
When Apple first released AirTags earlier this year, concerns immediately sprung up about nefarious use cases for the covert trackers. Apple responded with a slew of anti-stalking measures, but those are more intended for keeping people safe than cars. An AirTag away from its owner will sound an alarm, letting anyone nearby know that it’s been left behind, but it can take up to 24 hours for that alarm to go off — more than enough time to nab a car in the dead of night.
For the concerned, there are a few ways to defend against this kind of attack. Disabling Apple’s Find My network can stop your phone from reporting the location of nearby AirTags, and third-party bluetooth scanning apps can report if any new devices show up near you. As always, vigilance is key — simply knowing the threat is out there better prepares you to deal with it.