FCA really needs to get a handle on these vulnerabilites

A while back news surface of high-tech thieves that managed to steal a Jeep in a matter of minutes. So far, the tally of Jeeps stolen by hackers in the Houston area has risen to more than 30, but Local police have finally caught up with these two hackers and have arrested them. As reported by local media outlet ABC 13, the local police had been aware of the robberies, but until a home surveillance video caught the thieves in the act, they had very little to go by.

The two that have been arrested go by the names Michael Arcee and Jesse Zelaya, but local police say there is a possibility that they aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the vulnerability. According to the report, the hackers were using pirated software to infiltrate the vehicle’s built-in security system and bypass it. This enabled them to start the vehicle and roll away in as little as six minutes. It’s not exactly like Gone in 60 Seconds, but six minutes isn’t very long either. According to HPD, the jeeps were being stolen and smuggled into Mexico.

It is important to note that outside of the Pirated software, the hackers also had to gain entry into the vehicle without setting off the alarm. Most stock alarm systems are set to only go off if the door is opened from the interior after it has been locked, so to prevent that the thieves either climbed through a broken window or the vehicles were unlocked – the latter of which is the most likely scenario. Once they were in, it is safe to assume the laptop was plugged into the OBDII diagnostics port with a simple USB adapter available at multiple online outlets. The software that was used is still unknown at this time, but it’s safe to assume that it was likely FCA internal software that was stolen at one point or another.

Keep reading for the rest of the story.

Why it Matters

It’s pretty wild to think that someone with a laptop, a piece of stolen software, and a few minutes can easily steal a car, but it’s not all that surprising either. Hacking has been a big thing since the computer as we know it began residing in homes everywhere. Our cars are now packed with computers that are more powerful than the high-end computers of the early 2000s, and they are more vulnerable than ever to hacking. And, don’t think that this type of scenario is limited to vehicles built by companies under the FCA umbrella. With the right software – stolen or written by hackers themselves – any newer car could potentially be stolen like this.

Once a hacker is able to break past the built-in security nets, they are free to change the computer software as they wish. Just think about all the tuners that supply custom computer mapping for OBD-II vehicles – that isn’t something the GM or any other automaker really endorses. That too, in some sense, is a form of computer hacking. At this point, your best defense is to keep your windows up, doors locked, and security systems in record mode. Or you could always go with an aftermarket alarm system – some of those offer motion detectors that would certainly offer an increased level of security.
If you’re interested in seeing the original report from ABC 13, you can click play on the following video:

Source: ABC 13 Houston

Robert Moore
Editor-in-Chief and Automotive Expert - robert@topsped.com
Robert has been an auto enthusiast his entire life. He started working cars at a young age, learning the basics from his father in the home garage on the weekends. As time went on, Robert became more and more interested in cars and convinced his father to teach him how to drive when he was just 13 years old. Robert continued working on cars in his free time and learned as much as he could about engines, transmissions, and car electrical systems, something that only fed his curiosity more and eventually led him to earn a bachelors degree in automotive technology with a primary focus on engine performance and transmission rebuilding.  Read More
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