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US hackers steal 30 Jeeps without keys

A Pair of tech-savvy car crooks in the US finally came up short this week, when police in Houston, Texas busted them in the act.
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist
CarsGuide

5 Aug 2016 • 3 min read

Laptop-wielding thieves highlight a frighteningly easy way to gain illicit control of your car.

A pair of tech-savvy car crooks in the US finally came up short this week, when police in Houston, Texas busted them in the act of stealing their thirtieth Jeep in six months.

The catch? The thieves were starting the cars and driving them away by using only a laptop.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was embroiled in a hacking crisis in the middle of last year, when it was shown that US-market-only Jeep and Chrysler products fitted with a cellular-capable Uconnect head unit could be remotely pirated and controlled via a laptop.

It appears our hapless hacking duo plugged a laptop containing pirated software - potentially stolen from an FCA dealership.

Using the cellular network, hackers demonstrated how they could gain access and even disable a Jeep, leaving the driver helpless to intervene.

This latest incident, though, appears to be unrelated to the Uconnect head unit hack, which saw FCA recall more than 1.5 million cars to install a software patch to fix the vulnerability.

The perpetrators, named by police as Michael Arcee and Jesse Zelay, were caught on CCTV footage breaking into an older Jeep Wrangler that doesn’t use the Uconnect head unit in question, while the use of a laptop in the cabin points to another method of illicit entry into the car’s inner workings.

The vast majority of the world’s passenger cars built after 1995 are fitted with a digital access point known as a OBD II port.

Technicians can access a car’s various electronic systems to upload software and firmware fixes, as well as downloading error codes and faults, via this port, which is usually mounted inside the car’s cabin area.

While the investigation is still ongoing, it appears our hapless hacking duo plugged a laptop containing pirated software - potentially stolen from an FCA dealership’s service department - into the OBD II port, enabling them to start it and drive it away.

It’s been reported that the majority of the vehicles were unlocked when they were stolen.

Australian Jeep and Chrysler products were never subject to the hacking issues that dogged US-sold cars; none of the Uconnect multimedia systems sold locally at the time even contained the capability to be used on a cellular network, according to a spokesperson from FCA Australia.

There are systems currently on the Australian market that do offer mobile network access in Australia, including those fitted to Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Ford models that offer telecommunication functionality.

Ford’s new SYNC3 system, for example, can be updated over WiFi, as can the systems aboard a Tesla Model S.

However, automotive companies are wising up quickly to the dangers of hacking, with Tesla employing a former Google hacking prevention chief to run its cyber security division.

The moral of the story? Keep you car locked…

Have you ever thought that your car could possibly be hacked? Tell us what you think in the comments below.