Schneier on Security
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June 14, 2010
Protecting Cars with The Club
From the Freakonomics blog:
At some point, the Club was mentioned. The professional thieves laughed and exchanged knowing glances. What we knew was that the Club is a hardened steel device that attaches to the steering wheel and the brake pedal to prevent steering and/or braking. What we found out was that a pro thief would carry a short piece of a hacksaw blade to cut through the plastic steering wheel in a couple seconds. They were then able to release The Club and use it to apply a huge amount of torque to the steering wheel and break the lock on the steering column (which most cars were already equipped with). The pro thieves actually sought out cars with The Club on them because they didn't want to carry a long pry bar that was too hard to conceal.
Posted on June 14, 2010 at 1:46 PM
• 80 Comments
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B-E-A-U-tiful! I always knew the club was a joke but I never realized it would actually make a thief's job easier.
Truly a thing of beauty.
I made a living out of selling car alarms over 15 years ago, and was already seeing hacksawed steering wheels. Metal clubs evolved to make this harder or less usefull but in the end it clearly seems a problem of the weakest link not being attended to. Car alarms did change for good, they are now a lot more secure than they were some years ago.
Clubs do give a sense of security, and protect against amateur thieves.
This is how my grandfather's car was stolen around 1995. The kicker? It was stolen by two nine-year-old boys. Amateurs? Perhaps, but apparently quite motivated. (Apparently it was popular for kids to boost cars and joyride until the gas was gone.)
At one time in the past, I heard that the thieves would carry a can of that "Freeze It" spray (normally used in electronic troubleshooting), and spray the plastic lock of The Club making it brittle, then whack it with a hammer, shattering it.
Someone once said: "Locks keep honest men honest."
Wouldn't it still be easier to steal the neighbors Club-less car than the one with The Club?
In line with the previous comment, I don't have to be faster than the bear, I just have to faster than my fellow campers. Nearly all car security is for show. Radios with removable plates, or codes, are there to make them slightly less attractive. A car alarm is quite useless except for places where there is a lot foot traffic, in which case the thief might run away. The Club requires an additional step that is not required in most car security. So if it takes 60 seconds to steal a car, it now takes 90.
I belive the best security measure is to buy a stick shift. Almost no kids know how to drive it, most people don't want it, so the automatic truck will almost always get stolen before the manual coupe.
@Clubless: The whole point of it being easier to steal the car with the Club is that the Club was used as a large pry bar to disengage the steering lock, meaning that the thief didn't have to walk around with a pry bar.
My dad was a car dealer for quite some time, and he understood things happened. His lot was broken into , he had cars stolen and vandalized, etc.
But one rule he was very anal about was the plate rule. He would get very upset if he came to work in the morning and realized his staff forgot to take the dealer plates off cars that were test driven. There was a significant increase in theft when plates were available because it would make it easier for them to drive by police without getting stopped.
One time, he found a car had been stolen on Monday morning. Saturday evenings were theives favorite time since they may have all weekend before detection. He never found the car, but they found the plates on a different car (the plates were used in another robbery). Dealer plates were a hot item since they did not have to match a specific model or driver.
Not uncommon for theives to find a way to use a countermeasure to their advantage.
"Wouldn't it still be easier to steal the neighbors Club-less car than the one with The Club?"
No. Did you not read the last sentence?
@Gonzalo I agree that car alarms have solved one problem but now cars are so much more secure we have car-jacking!
I think Freakonomics also covered the fact that stealing car stereos and other electronic goods became uneconomic when they became cheaper...
But sawing through the steering wheel damages the car ... and in a rather obvious way ... making it harder to sell or causing you extra cost and effort to repair it.
That might not cut it with joyriding dumb fuck kids, but certainly with pros?
@ buntklicker.de: But sawing through the steering wheel damages the car ... and in a rather obvious way ... making it harder to sell or causing you extra cost and effort to repair it.
The cost of repairing the damange pale in comparison to the value of what is obtained, particularly if it reduces the risk of being caught.
> sawing through the steering wheel damages the car ...
>and in a rather obvious way ... making it harder to sell
Many expensive cars that are stolen in Europe are dismantled and being sold in parts for obvious reasons.
The Club helped me at one point. The theives sawed through the steering wheel, but the wheel had an iron or steel core that took several minutes to cut through, giving the police time to arrive. However, the real security was my neighbors, who saw the suspicious activity and called the police in the first place.
It's pretty easy to swap out a sawn-through steering wheel with one from a junk yard - I did it myself after the above incident. Of course, that was before airbags - these days I'd never use a Club because replacing a steering wheel has become complicated.
"I belive the best security measure is to buy a stick shift. Almost no kids know how to drive it, most people don't want it, so the automatic truck will almost always get stolen before the manual coupe."
Actually, a lot of the cars popular with kids, and certainly most affordable performance cars, have manual transmissions.
Quite funny really.
It would be interesting to see what insurance company figures are.
There is another model of the Club...I'm not sure what it is called...that mounts on the brake pedal exclusively. These, I suspect, are much less at risk of being defeated this way.
Are there no steering wheels with a metal bar under the plastic all the way around? Cutting through plastic might be quick, but there's no way using a short hacksaw blade with no handle to cut through soft steel in "a couple seconds".
Fascinating that you can apparently just hire professional car thieves like that, too. How do you do that? Place a classified ad in the paper? How do you make sure that the guys you get aren't just pretenders, and how do actual thieves make sure that the whole thing isn't a trap?
@ uk visa
I wouldn't be so sure of that. Price drops have made stereo theft less economical but not "uneconomical." I see such thefts regularly in my city. The problem is that you're probably looking at it from your viewpoint as a hardworking individual. The thieves, looking for easy money, see it as making $50 in under ten minutes. A group of two guys can hit a neighborhood, doing the easy cars first, to score $500+ in one night. They will likely do this for a few more weeks in a few more neighborhoods. To them, it's a part-time job with acceptable risk that pays up to $150 an hour. They also get an adrenaline rush, don't deal with pricks at the office, and get street creds that leads to more jobs, some low risk.
This all sounds very economical to me. Much more so than the jobs I had as a teenager...
Ironically, my car was stolen, not once, but twice, both times recovered by Lojack. On the initial theft, the thieves broke in, replaced my computer (located in the passenger side kick panel) and busted open the sttering column. It's a stick and since they had their own computer with matching key, a quick push and pop of the clutch and they were gone. The car was found hours later abandoned by the beach in the next county. I got the car fixed and it spent a while in the body shop getting a new paint job.
I installed a car alarm (audible) just to further deter the thieves in the future. Apparently, they *really* wanted the car, it was gone again on Memorial Day. The thought now is that because I had this wimpy alarm installed, when they got it the second time, the car ended up in the chop shop right away, they ransacked the interior, used the same method for theft, and smashed the alarm. Now the guy is facing 9 felony counts, I got my car back, and its being repaired now.
It still makes me chuckle, my brother has "the club" for both his cars but didn't start using them until after my car was stolen. I'll be printing this for him to read. Long live Lojack and GPS based recovery systems.
Ah, unintended consequences, the bane of our existence when people feel compelled to "do something". I love it.
My theory used to be: Use an alarm and The Club, and park near cars nicer than mine. Hopefully the thieves that can bypass both systems will be drawn to the higher value targets. I may have to reconsider The Club part of the equation.
"A car alarm is quite useless except for places where there is a lot foot traffic, in which case the thief might run away."
It's useless in all cases except when the owner, or as in one case described here, someone who cares about the owner, is within earshot. Who do you know that does not ignore a stranger's car alarm? Heck, many people (myself included) are rooting for the thief just to shut up the stupid alarm, unless the vehicle belongs to someone I know and like. The whole "make noise" concept assumes, among other things, that the thief believes that someone who gives a squirt about the car will hear it. That's rarely the case if the car is not parked at the owner's residence.
In your hypothetical high-traffic-area case, c'mon ... all the thief has to do is remain calm and look annoyed; people will immediately assume it's a dumb owner who can't find the cancel button.
So ... about that club ... I guess now car owners will take a cue from motorcycle owners (who frequently use wheel or disk locks) and go with a Denver boot. Not very stylish ... :)
By the way, the ironclad defense against motor vehicle theft is to drive an embarrassing piece of ugly crap that no one wants.
@Skeptic: The ironclad defence against motor vehicle theft is to take transit.
These days, a car is less likely to be stolen for the car's sake. Thieves strip off valuable parts like airbags and computers.
Between the RFID keys and VIN etching everywhere, stealing the car isn't worth it in many cases.
@Skeptic - not necessarily, the most stolen cars here are > 5year old Toyota sedans.
They are stolen for parts, the more embarrassing a cheap ugly piece of crap the more chance there will be lots of other owners out there that want to buy cheap replacement parts.
Volvo/BMW owners don't buy dodgy spares from a guy in a bar.
The ironclad defense against motor vehicle theft is to be hidden in the back seat with a ball-peen hammer
Interesting thought. I actually hadn't heard of these until you brought them to my attention. The link below is a nice list of anti-theft devices and has a picture of a gearshift lock.
During my quick Google search, I've found little information on breaking them. A few sites mentioned that tools existed to do this but I didn't see them in my search. Those same sites did say it was a nice defense simply because most thieves don't carry those tools. You have to pick the right one though: apparently some use locks that are easily picked.
How about tantalizing thieves with booby-trapped Clubs?
The booby trap could range from annoying to lethal depending on the depth of your pockets for a good lawyer.
Kind of a Club honey pot that morphs into an anti-malhuman when activated.
My favorite would be a club that expand and unfolds spikes with barbs wouldn't reach far enough to hit the seat.
Booby traps can backfire, unfortunately. I guess a beeper with a built-in rsa key synced to the fake but unpleasant club could disarm it and make it hard to copy.
Better just to pay a homeless guy to watch your car.
Better to take a cab, the bus or a the train. Or a limo. Or get ride with a friend.
Sorry, just one more.
Here's a crazy anti-theft contraption that wiggles the steering wheel like mad if a thief or your 16 year old doesn't disarm it. Maybe it'll go off if the car's side-swiped while driving, though.
At university, a friend wired an extra ignition coil into the driver seat, with toggle switch under the dashboard. It worked very well - he once forgot to flip the toggle before turning the ignition switch...
Amusingly enough, I had heard once that the lock on the club was easy to pick. The first time it was picked, it took the guy 30 seconds. Long time to be sitting in a car, but you have to figure that with some practice it could probably be done pretty quickly.
Of course, this is much more amusing.
The truth is, nothing will protect a car from a determined, skilled thief. Quite a few of these may deter amateurs, however.
Take reasonable precautions, but in the end, your best protection from theft is insurance.
Actually, there is an effective line of auto theft deterrents. They are developed and tested by StickDeath Inc. These links show live demonstrations of the products preventing theft from real thieves:
Stick Death Anti Auto Theft 2000 model
StickDeath 2001 offerings (last one is best)
They also showcase on YouTube auto theft prevention products for the years 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. This kind of ingenuity and steady stream of innovative products keeps StickDeath on top of the game. The brutal demo's probably help a bit, too. ;)
Sometimes improved security interferes more with the owner than the thief. I know one guy who locked his keys in his trunk. He called a locksmith, but the locks were actually quite resistant to picking and a lot of time was spent trying to dismantle parts of the car.
The point is: a thief, who is not worried about damaging the vehicle could get in quickly, but the owner could not.
I'm commenting too much today.
But one more thought. Freakonomics is fun, but it's basically entertainment, mainly based around counterintuitive factoids, often based on single or anonymous incidents.
I'd not treat it as carefully researcged fact.
Does anyone actually pay attention to car alarms? Most of them go off when a cat walks by. The vast majority are false alarms, leading to Peter & Wolf Syndrome ...
Have you all missed the point of "The Club"?
Look at the name itself.
This vehicle security device is, for many people, more useful when it is not attached to the steering wheel. Instead, it is loosely and legally stashed beneath the front seat within reach of a driver who believes he lives in a dangerous world. In fact, some do.
There are numerous state laws that prevent drivers from carrying articles like baseball bats, rebar and guns in a vehicle. But "The Club" gets past this nicely by serving a second purpose -- a purpose that law enforcement can hardly complain about!
When I was a teenager, we used to call this sort of thing "a hummer". In effect, it is breaking the rules in plain sight -- right front of and with the tacit approval of those who enforce the rules.
What I never understood was why any man would bu such a thing for his 110 pound wife or girlfriend -- especially as a gift. Talk about living dangerously! "The Club" is equally effective as a weapon when outside the vehicle, after all.
You also forgot to mention how it works as a shotgun, they stuff a 410 up in the tube of the club and its even more effective. I think there are Youtube vids.
Over the years people have tried to steal my cars (3 of them) and failed every time but once.
The first car I used the club religiously and lived in a dodgy part of town. End result? I replaced the rear window three times (always the same window...) and had my steering wheel bent once but car never stolen thanks to the Club.
Second car, stolen when I didn't Club it. Later recovered by police. (Thanks guys!)
Third car... one day neighbor who owned same model/year car as me teases me by saying "Why put the Club on? We live in a nice part of town." I laugh and respond "I put the club on because you don't." We laugh and go our way. Three months later her car was stolen. It had been parked right in front of mine. So, the logical conclusion is that the Club saved my car. Again.
But, 3rd car was also a stick so maybe the thieves couldn't drive stick.
Trunk Monkey for the win! I especially like how the monkey grabs his crotch after tossing the guy over the rail.
I always thought setting up an alarm that screamed HELP! RAPE! in a womans voice would get more attention than the standard car alarm, but knowing how bad false alarms can be it's not worth the risk.
As an amateur radio operator I used to sit in the parking lot while my better half did the shopping. There was always at least one car that would trip its alarm whenever I transmitted on 2 meters. One day I waited while the local law enforcement drove through the lot. Just after the passed the "target" I transmitted. They never stopped, didn't even look to see why an alarm just started. That's when I determined that audible alarms were not worth the effort.
"A car alarm is quite useless except for places where there is a lot foot traffic, in which case the thief might run away."
Yeah, car alarms don't work at all unless the people hearing it know the owner. My dad and I had a car where we couldn't turn the alarm off the proper way, the only thing left to do was pop the hood and disconnect the battery. This once happened in a busy parking lot in the city, no one batted an eye, we just got sympathetic looks.
To defeat a car alarm all a thief needs to do is look sheepish.
I used a Club when I bought my first car, on the theory that it would render my car a slightly less tempting target than the one next to mine. Indeed, the first week I had it, six Hondas were stolen from our company parking lot, but not mine.
Also, the Club came with a guarantee that would cover your insurance deductible if your car was stolen.
@Stole my own car
Similar thing happened to me. I bought a 10 year old van recently, and the alarm went off in a busy parking lot. It was pretty funny considering I didn't know the van even had an alarm. Took me quite a while to figure out how to turn it off, but no one thought twice about it.
I think alarms are so common that they are assumed to be false. Much like pop up warnings and use agreements on computers.
Those LEO's may have thought the RF emanating from their own car had set off that car alarm.
About 25 years ago, some friends and I discovered that if we keyed our 11-meter radios (with at least 50 watts!), we could set off the burglar alarm at the local pawn shop when we drove by.
@SteveB "Just after the passed the "target" I transmitted. They never stopped, didn't even look to see why an alarm just started."
We discussed home alarms some time ago. As I recall the stat is >90% of all home alarms activations are false alarms.
The police I've monitored on the scanner won't even respond unless the central office has confirmed the key holder is AT the building.
Instead of the club...how about the Boot?
@BF Skinner: "As I recall the stat is >90% of all home alarms activations are false alarms."
Wouldn't surprise me. I still see home alarms as more effective though. It will likely drive off an intruder more since it may attract the home owner if home or a neighbor if not. If my neighbor's home alarm went off when she was at work, I'd go check is out and deactivate it (I have a key). If it were their car alarm, I'd turn up the volume on the TV.
Bottom line, cars are easy to steal, and if someone wants yours, they will get it unless (normally) the risk is too great.
In defense of the club, I used one, paired with hood lock and alarm when I lived in Brooklyn and car theft by pros and joy-riders was common.
I rarely use one now and it's mostly to stop air bag theft (in my area, it appears more common than joy riding).
Of course my security stragety has changed since buying an often-stolen sports car. I leave the top down when it isn't raining so the car screams "Look at me! Steal me if you dare!"
I also lowered my deductable.
I'd like to be rich enough to have my own special bait car built. When they close the door, the car is sealed and a huge pump automatically activates and sucks all the air out of the interior. Of course, I'd want cameras to record all the fun so I could watch it again and again. On the other hand, I'm sure I'd be violating the inalienable human rights of scumbags to rob working people of their ability to GET to work so they can continue to pay taxes to provide those scumbags with free money, food, cellphones, needles and so on.
@Hugh Genics at June 15, 2010 11:48 AM
I remember the movie RoboCop. I believe their was a mock commercial in it. It showed a would-be car thief break into a car and try to start it. It triggered a device that latched onto him and electrocuted him. It showed the owner returning to their car, dumping their body beside the car and driving off as the narrator was saying "no hassle, no police, no mess." May have to watch the movie just to get the name of the device.
Car owners deserve all the misery they can get.
Cars are responsible for great part of air and sound pollution in the world. Air pollution, besides being generally unpleasing, also causes respiratory diseases: shortness of breath, asthma, lung cancer, etc.
Sound pollution causes stress, insomnia, irritability, etc.
Chronic diseases that cost billion of dollars/euros every to individuals, employers, governments!
Personal cars are unnecessary!
Car owners are neither moral superior nor have any moral authority. They aren't any better than the people that rob them. In fact they much, much worse.
Car owners are some of the most disrespectful, immoral, criminal, irresponsible humans in the world.
Make a mockery of every traffic regulation.
Don't stop at STOP sings.
Don't stop at zebra lines.
Park over the side walks. Park everywhere making walking anywhere more difficult than climbing the Everest.
Disrespectful at other drivers, drivers of other vehicles that should have priority: bus, ambulances, taxis, police cars.
Irresponsible: most drivers should pass mandatory psychological tests. Lack of sleep, drugged, drunk, distracted: cell phones, lipstick, manicure (!), pedicure (!), talking with head turned backwards, reading, etc!!! I've seen it all...
They think that their cars are racing cars and that the roads are racing tracks.
That all culture of car modifications screams: WE ARE ABOVE THE LAW! Fascists Pigs!
Think that their cars are Discos or Clubs or Temples. They want to subject everyone to their poor taste in music and their hateful religions!
Paraplegics and quadriplegics and vegetables!
Cars are one most pollutant objects ever created by Man. They are responsible for so much pollution even before they are used.
Oh and the sense of entitlement. Like the one commentators above that have pleasure with suffering of others.
Yeah, and cars also:
* enable people to get emergency medical care quickly
* faciliate quick response when your home is ablaze
* get someone there to protect you and your family when in danger.
* 911 wouldn't be too much help without cars
* transport food and beverages to feed and nourish the entire nation
I could go on, but most rational people get the point. Pollution can and should be managed, but that is not to say no good ever comes from the source.
In my area, the public transit system is called RTD for short, which stands for Regional Transportation District.
The rest of us call it Reason To Drive.
On car alarms: some of the car thieves in my area have figured out that setting off the car alarm helps to cover up the sound of breaking glass...
If you have a car that is stupidly easy to break into and hotwire (like an '89 camry) a club will keep kids looking for a joyride out of your car, which probably holds little interest for profession thieves.
Sawing through the steering wheel causes obvious damage to the car...
Until you go down to your friendly auto wrecker and buy another one. Given the five finger discount, it's a tiny part of the resale value.
The leverage to break the lock and cut-through has been around for quite a while. The first instance from personal experience was a repo I had to repair and it was executed in just this manner.
DeClubbing is used both by thieves and reposession operators and it does actually speed up the process in models where the column lock is insubstantial and the ring on the steering wheel is essentially a wire loop buried in plastic.
Knowing your car models determines your technique.
@kingsnake "Does anyone actually pay attention to car alarms?"
On my way out from work some on a Harley was reving to leave and the car (a bmw) next to him in the lot tripped. It went into full panic mode...for about 30 seconds and shut itself off.
@JohnF "cover up the sound of breaking glass..."
So we've become adapted to one sound as safe (car alarm) but another we might pay attention to (breaking glass (great movie btw) is obscured because of it?
Reminds me of an audio card we got for a new dad...it was the sound of a baby crying in the middle of the night...all the dads in the room shivvered.
An aquaintance went to see a Bulls game at the old Chicago Stadium. A kid offered to “watch” his car while it was parked. He pulled out a twenty, tore it in half, gave half to the kid and told him he would get the other half after the game. The kid and car were still there when he got back.
@Sean "Sawing through the steering wheel causes obvious damage to the car."
Sawing through the steering wheel causes neglible, inconsequential, damage to the car.
I wish more publicity were given to the fact that car alarms don't work. They are incredibly annoying.
I propose a new law: Anyone awakened at night by someone else's car alarm has the right to turn it off himself using a pick-axe, crowbar, or sledge hammer. Opening the hood first is optional.
He was a troll, John. It's best to ignore them and let moderators deal with them. Giving attention to online trolls is like feeding sh!t to mushrooms: it makes them [feel] bigger.
"pro thief would carry a short piece of a hacksaw blade to cut through the plastic steering wheel in a couple seconds. "
In my car inside the steering wheel is about 8mm diameter hardened steel ring. Good luck of sawing that, even in a couple of minutes.
On the other hand, no simple device can stop a professional, he tows the car away if necessary.
Plastic steering wheels ?
Not in a mercedes.
BTW: My car stands open in my gateway in summer, since the windows are open anyway. But since the car electronic blocks, if the doors are not opened with the electronic key, you can't drive.
It's a car from 1995. I know, that quality has dropped since than, but did not imagine how much.
The ironclad defense against motor vehicle theft is to ban motor vehicles. And thieves, just to be on the safe side.
Back about the mid-80s I saw a consumer testing TV show test car alarms. They parked an alarm rigged car on a busy downtown street and watched with a hidden camera as an actor pried at the door with a crowbar while the alarms yowled away. People just kept on walking by and mostly ignored him. The best part was when they replaced the alarm with a speaker and taperecorder that screamed out “Stop this man. He is stealing this car.” That got people to stop and watch.
my boss got his catylic converter stolen from right in front of his house. they did it in less than 2 mins. ( 2 guys, portable metal cutters ). Now it has 2 3/4 steel plates. It should take about a hour to get through them, with only 10 additional pounds.
This is exactly why I lock my steering wheel to my brake pedal with Duct Tape! And just to piss off the thief more, I put Duct Tape on the seat...sticky side up!
A story about why car alarms are security theatre:
A friend owned a first generation Mazda RX7 back when they first came out. He's at college when the car alarm we'd installed -- with motion sensor -- goes off at 2:15am, right after the local bars have closed and drunks are being a**holes. He runs out of the dorm in his underwear carrying a baseball bat. Prankster who rocked the car is gone.
Next night same thing. 2:15am the alarm sounds. People in the dorm yelling for him to shut off the dammed alarm. No thief or vandel.
Third night repeats, but my friend opens the hood and rips out the wires to the alarm.
Car is stolen the fourth night; never recovered.
The only anti-theft device I've ever used and considered useful was a hidden fuel cut-off switch. Engine cranks, but won't start. And the switch would have taken the thief some serious time to locate -- assuming they suspected the problem.
The "human engineering" of alarms is an old trick that has been going on for years one way or another.
I guess "The boy who cried wolf" is an example of how long "human engineering" has been going on.
With regards the fuel cut of switch, a firend had a different method his idea made the enginee start then cough splutter and die after maybe thirty seconds like their was a lose electrical wire problem etc.
The other think he had was the worlds most uncomftable drivers seat.
When he was driving he'd uncatch the metal bar so the golf ball would sink down and thus not be noticable, when he got out he catched the metal bar so the golf ball would not sink down.
His car was stolen three or four times by joyrders but the furthest he ever had to walk to get it back was about 300 yards...
As he said "it's difficult to be cool with one pain in the ass but two is one to many for comfort"
Hey, Here's an idea--electrify the club. Can you imagine the surprise when a 20 volts of electricity gets them. Then a voice could be activated, saying, "You try to cut into me a second time and you will be fried. My voltage will go up to 220. So back off!!!" Therefore a warning could be given. If the thief foolishly tried again and was done in, so to speak, the owner could say that the thief was warned!
thats an awesome idea, but idk if the law would let something like that. We do have tassers tho :)
I was considering buying the club and after reading all of this i think a kill switch, club on gas pedal or trackin device would be best
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