Car thieves have been searching for ways to drive off with your vehicle since the addition of door locks. We've all seen it on the big screen, a criminal smashes the driver's window to get in and then hotwires the car.
Things have come a long way since the early days of thievery. Modern day car bandits are using some pretty high-tech systems. We've just learned about an auto theft ring using hacking techniques to get away with millions of dollars worth of vehicles.
How hackers are stealing vehicles
What's happening is, members of a Tijuana-based biker gang have allegedly been stealing vehicles for a little over three years. Local law enforcement, along with the FBI, announced indictments this week of nine members of the Hooligans Motorcycle Club. The thieves targeted Jeep Wranglers and some motorcycles in California.
Police say the alleged criminals were able to gain access to a secure key database, either by hacking into it or knowing someone working within the company. This allowed them to create duplicate keys for vehicles with matching VINs. They would then have scouts search neighborhoods for specific Jeeps.
Once a matching VIN was discovered, the thief would pop open the hood and cut wires to the front flashing lights and horn. Then, they would get in the vehicle with the duplicate key and hack the vehicles' onboard computer so they could drive away without being caught. The process was surprisingly quick, only a few minutes total.
Law enforcement said in the indictment, "Thieves and transporters would return to the targeted Jeep Wrangler with the key and the programming code and would disable certain features of the Jeep Wrangler's alarm system, including the horn and emergency flashers. Thieves would use the duplicate key to access the Jeep Wrangler's passenger compartment and would then use a handheld key programmer and the code received from the key cutters to program the duplicate key."
After successfully stealing the vehicle, the thieves would drive it to Mexico, where it was either sold or stripped for parts. The FBI estimates that more than 150 vehicles have been stolen since January 2014 that are worth approximately $4.5 million in total. Motorcycle models also targeted were Honda CBRs, Kawasaki Ninjas and Yamaha YZF-R1.
How to protect your vehicle
Even though Jeep Wranglers were targeted in this auto theft ring, it could be any make or model in the future. All the criminals need is to hack into other key databases and they're in business.
One way to try and prevent this type of theft would be to put a cover over the VIN that is seen through the windshield. This way, the hacker won't be able to match the VIN with the breached database.
Sometimes the best way to get around a technical hack is with a manual approach. Steering wheel locks and pedal locks can be a second line of defense in addition to your car alarm or tracking system. Check out these wheel locks and brake locks from Amazon. And let's hope all car manufacturers take notice and beef up their cybersecurity.