Over 100 Jeeps and Rams were recently stolen from unsuspecting car owners in Texas, in what was first believed to be an intelligent computer hack that could only have been pulled off by extremely computer savvy individuals. However, investigators soon learned that the thieves were able to access the cars by hacking into a private dealer database.
To explain exactly how the thefts took place, Fiat released a statement stating exactly how the hackers first broke into the actual automobiles, and accessed the DealerCONNECT database by entering the automobile VIN numbers. This allowed the thieves to create new key fobs and easily drive away in the vehicles without causing a commotion.
According to the Houston Chronicle, "The thief broke into the vehicle and used a laptop to enter its VIN number in order to access the Chrysler database. Dealerships, repair facilities and locksmiths are usually the only ones allowed to access the database, which provides the code for key fob access. Once the thief enters the VIN number, he can re-program the car's computer so it will accept a generic key fob. The car will then start, and the thief is able to drive off."
The ability to create a generic key fob by simply logging into a private database made it easy for the thieves to steal an estimated 100-plus vehicles. The apprehended men were two members of a larger car theft ring in which automobiles were stolen in order to be shipped to Mexico. According to Automotive News, the stolen vehicles were commonly passed across the US-Mexico border during the late evening hours, and thefts were not detected until the next day.
Automative News also states that recent changes to the Fiat Chrysler Terms of Service for the DealerCONNECT database let users know in no uncertain terms that serious consequences may occur if they attempt to share any type of anti-theft information with others. While this is no guarantee that the thefts will cease, it is definitely a step in the right direction.
In the old days before advanced computer technology, a potential car thief had to first make their way into a locked vehicle, possibly breaking a window or causing serious damage to the door handle, then proceed to hot wire the engine without getting caught. In today's world, a laptop computer and some basic data entry skills allowed thieves to steal multiple vehicles by simply creating a new key code. Fortunately, steps are now being taken to prevent future theft in this fashion, but car owners should also take steps to ensure their vehicles are safe at all times, such as installing alarm systems and utilizing anti-theft devices that make it impossible for thieves to drive away!