Hackers Use FCA Key Database to Boost 100-plus Jeeps, Dodges
With many parts of the auto industry racing heck-bent-for-election toward the computerized-wired-networked car of the present, they are making it easier for car thieves to roll away with anyone’s vehicle. There was a time – not too many weeks ago – when it took a bit of ingenuity, luck and a Slim Jim to get into a vehicle and roll it away from its parking spot. However, thieves in Houston have found a way into a national key code database and have managed to steal more than 100 cars.
Of course, their luck had to run out sometime, and police have jailed two hackers, Michael Arce, 24, and Jesse Zelaya, 22, who targeted Fiat Chrysler Autos (FCA) Jeep and Dodge vehicles, using a laptop to reprogram the electronic security.
Their work highlights what is likely to become a nightmare for police and carmakers, especially as the world is hurtling toward the wired vehicle. “As you get more and more computers installed in vehicles,” Houston Police Officer Jim Woods said recently, “if somebody has that knowledge and that ability, they can turn around and figure out a way to manipulate the system.”
Arce and Zelaya hacked into a national database of keyfob information to drive away 100 cars and send them into the black market in Mexico where Jeeps and Dodge vehicles reportedly attract big money. FCA is working with authorities to determine how the pair accessed the database of keyfob codes used by dealers, locksmiths and independent auto repair shops to repair lost devices. Berj Alexanian, a spokesman for the automaker, told Popular Mechanics, the database is national and includes vehicles outside of Houston. Alexanian said he wasn’t aware of thefts elsewhere.
FCA is trying to outwit and stop such thefts. “We are looking at every and all solutions to make sure our customers can safely and without thinking park their vehicles,” he emphasized.
Occurrences such as the Houston thefts highlight a global vulnerability in the “wired” car. Yoni Heilbronn, a computer security expert, said such thefts are only likely to increase across the globe. He is vice president of marketing for Argus Cyber Security. The Israeli company works with the auto industry to develop protections for vehicles, however, he noted, hackers will always seek ways to get in. Interestingly, while computers do bring many safety benefits, there are also problems. The downside is that hackers can install software in cars that may shut them down until the owners pay ransom to free them, for example.
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