186 – Catalytic Converter Thefts, Low Profile Tires, Car Hacking Dangers

In this week’s episode of the Executive Protection and Secure Transportation podcast, we discussed Catalytic Converter Thefts, Executive Vehicles and Low Profiles Tires, and hacking dangers of vehicles.

The Executive Protection and Secure Transportation podcast is powered by the International Security Driver Association. Every week we share secure transportation and executive protection headlines, news, trends, and educational content for today’s practitioners.

Theft of Catalytic Converters

Your vehicle has a precious metal container infused with a precious metal that is selling for about $28,000 per ounce right now; that’s 15-times the price of gold.

The metal is Rhodium, and the container is your Catalytic converter.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau recorded 2347 thefts of the emissions-cleaning devices in December 2020, up from 578 a year earlier. Thieves are after the precious metals in the Catalytic converter that change highly toxic pollutants in the exhaust into less harmful gases. The price of one of those metals, Rhodium, spiked as high as $30,000 per troy ounce (slightly heavier than a standard ounce) last year due to an existing shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. A single cat contains about $400 worth of Rhodium.

The theft is typically a two-person job. One person jacks up the car and extracts the Catalytic converter (“cat”) with a pipe cutter or a reciprocating saw. The accomplice drives the getaway car.

The crime often takes under three minutes. Thieves tend to target vehicles with high ground clearance (no need to use a jack) and Priuses (since the engine runs intermittently, the cat is generally clean and nets a big payday).

The thief sells the part for $50 to $250, usually to a scrapper offering cash for cats, no questions asked. This middleman amasses catalytic converters, as he may need 500 or more to strike a deal with a smelter who extracts the precious metals.

The valuable metals are refined, resold on the open market, reintroduced into the manufacturing supply chain, and likely partially reconstituted inside the catalytic converter of a brand-new car. This, children, is the circle of life.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau recommends vehicle owners install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft. For example, the Cat Clamp.

The Executive vehicle should always be parked in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked, and alarmed.

If not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, they may make some thieves think twice, making them leave the area and your vehicle untouched.

Executive Vehicle and Low Profile Tires

Many of the newer Executive Vehicles, including SUVs, come with Low Profile tires. There are advantages and disadvantages to low-profile tires.

Low-profile tires are all about the tire’s Aspect Ratio. The Aspect Ratio of a tire is the ratio of the sidewall’s height to the tire’s cross-sectional width. If a tire has an aspect ratio of 60, the sidewall is 60% as high as the tire is wide. 

The lower the Aspect Ratio, the shorter the sidewall. Generally, low-profile tires have an aspect ratio of 55 or less, though this can vary slightly.

As an example, the Mercedes Benz S550 Sedan has 255/45R/19 tires – The first number, 255, in a typical size is the tire’s section width in millimeters, measured from sidewall to sidewall. If I want the tire width in inches, divide by 25.5. Hence the tires are 10 inches wide.

The tire’s aspect ratio or profile is the second number followed by R. (255/45R/19). As we mentioned, this is the ratio of the sidewall’s section height to the tire’s section width. So the Aspect ratio is 45% – the sidewall is 45% as high as the tire is wide. 

You can calculate the sidewall’s section height by multiplying the section width by the aspect ratio percentage. For example: 255 mm x 0.45 = 115 mm or 4.5 Inches.

For example, the Lincoln Navigator Black Label comes with 285/45R/22 tires; when you work out the math, the bottom of the tire is 5 inches or 128.5 millimeters from the road surface.

The last example, a version of the suburban, has 275/50R/22 tires. When you work out the math, the bottom of the tire is 5.3 Inches or 137.5 millimeters from the road surface.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of low-profile tires?

The Advantages

  • Improved handling
  • Better braking
  • Increased fuel efficiency
  • Appearance – they look good.


  • A stiffer, bumpier ride 
  • Rapid deflation: which may lead to damaging the wheels

Car Hacking Danger Is Likely Closer Than You Think

A recent article from Car and Driver magazine mentions that connected cars are great until they’re not.

They mentioned that a recent Detroit Free Press article shows that vehicle hacks are more common and more dangerous than most people realize. According to the report from Upstream Security, there were at least 150 automotive cybersecurity incidents in 2019, a 94 percent year-over-year increase since 2016.

This trend is unlikely to reverse any time soon with more communication methods built into new vehicles, including massive over-the-air update technologies.

This comment from the article got our attention – “The more sophisticated the system is, the more connected your vehicle is, the more exposed you are” – most all executive vehicles have “sophisticated the system.”

Secure Transportation and Connected Vehicles

The following is data from the 2021 Global Automotive Cybersecurity Report – Research Into Cyber Attack Trends In Light Of Cybersecurity Standards And Regulations.

By 2023, connected vehicles are expected to account for a quarter of all passenger cars worldwide, and by 2025 they will comprise nearly 86% of the global automotive market. They’ll be far more sophisticated than they were when GM launched what could be considered the first “connected car” model in 1996 with only an emergency call system. Since then, many more computerized systems have been added, and vehicles will continue to evolve to include additional personalization advanced technological capabilities. While connected components and systems are critical to enhancing vehicles’ capabilities, advancing autonomous vehicles (AVs), and providing better user experiences, they also introduce additional vulnerabilities and entry points for hackers to leverage.

Taking into account that every recent security survey conducted points to cyber security being the number one concern of the business community. Suppose you are a supplier of secure transportation services. In that case, ISDA suggests you address the issue of vehicle connectivity and educate yourself on the risk it presents to your principal or client.

To assist with the education process, We will go through the basic definitions of “connected vehicles.”

Connected Vehicles are when they share data between servers, apps, and the vehicles’ various components to enable telematics services, smart mobility services, and more.

There are five primary modes of vehicle connectivity:

  • Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) is a wireless data exchange between the vehicle and road infrastructure to get information about accidents, construction, parking, and more.
  • Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) – is data-sharing between vehicles, typically including location, to avoid traffic jams and accidents.
  • Vehicle to Everything (V2X) – is any data exchange or communication between a vehicle and other objects or road users, such as traffic lights, road markings, traffic signs, etc.
  • Vehicle to Cloud (V2C) – is communication between a vehicle and cloud-based backend systems allowing the vehicle to process information and commands sent between services and applications.
  • Vehicle to Pedestrian (V2P) – Communication between vehicles, infrastructure, and personal mobile devices to inform about the pedestrian environment enabling safety, mobility, and environmental advancements

The other phrase practitioners need to understand is “attack vector.”

An attack vector is a path or means by which an attacker or hacker can gain access to a computer or network server to deliver a payload or malicious outcome. Attack vectors enable hackers to exploit system vulnerabilities, including the human element.

Here are some attack vector statistics

  • 32.9% of attack vectors are the server
  • 26.3% of all attack vectors are from the Key Fob

If you would like to add to your knowledge, we suggest downloading Upstream Security’s 2021 Global Automotive Cybersecurity Report – Research Into Cyber Attack Trends In Light Of Cybersecurity Standards And Regulations.

To assist with the education process, ISDA is producing a knowledge center for its members.

Join the ISDA!

If you have an interest in going much deeper into these types of topics, I invite you to check out the International Security Driver Association’s website and consider joining the membership to gain access to the encyclopedia of executive protection and secure transportation – The ISDA Knowledge Center.

For more information on all of the member benefits head over to isdacenter.org.

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