Another Argument for Better Electronic Security of Vehicles

Have you ever watched as a key fob is reprogrammed? Do you know the chip in your credit card makes it more vulnerable to theft in your wallet? The security measures we trust to help give us some convenience and security are seemingly so far behind what thieves have its laughable. While your key fob isn’t necessarily considered to be a security device you don’t expect someone else to have the same programming and to be able to open the doors of your vehicle once you push the lock button. Unfortunately thieves are able to easily enter your vehicle if that’s what they plan to do.

Apparently the black market in Mexico is an attractive place to sell Jeep and Dodge vehicles and this was the target market for two thieves who were recently put in jail in Houston with the accusation they have stolen more than 100 vehicles. These two men did this using pirated computer software while exploiting the electronic vulnerability of the key fob programming. What they did was use a laptop computer to reprogram the electronic security of the vehicle so their key would work and they could step in and drive off easily.

The database of software and codes to program these keys is supposed to be protected by the automaker, the dealers and locksmiths along with independent auto repair shops. FCA is working with police to investigate just how these two were able to gain access to this database which tracks the use of the key fob codes to ensure proper authorization is given before a key can be programmed. As far as this case is concerned the thefts seem to have only taken place in the Houston area, but the database for key fob codes is a nationally used database.

While many in the auto industry have worked extremely hard to increase security of the computer systems used in cars of today, the fact that many cars have multiple computers on board means the systems could be at risk. Not every system has to be at risk for there to be a problem, but if thieves or hackers are able to tap into one system they could take over control of a vehicle and do more damage than just stealing a vehicle, they could actually target and kill people that are inside the vehicle.

The threat of thefts and control being lost has many automakers employing their own hacker teams to find and fix any vulnerabilities their vehicles present. The lack of security poses a real threat and could result in serious loss of property or life. While most vehicles have multiple layers of security installed, many areas don’t have enough security to keep out the most advanced hackers and can eventually become victim to a vehicle being broken into remotely, which is certainly a more sophisticated form of vehicle theft than was present when cars didn’t have computers installed in them.

What makes this case even more frightening is the fact that these thieves gained access while in the vehicle, not remotely. There is a surveillance tape of one of the robberies that shows the suspect cutting the wires to the horn, which disables the alarm and then gaining access to the vehicle. Using the database and the VIN he was able to program a key fob and drive off with the vehicle. While both men remain behind bars and have court dates this does leave the automotive industry open for security risks that shouldn’t be present.

With this string of thefts what’s the next step? For automakers the need is even greater to have adequate security and possibly a backup security system on a vehicle. Most drivers don’t purchase an advanced security membership because of the low likelihood of theft, but maybe they should. It’s important to feel you can leave your vehicle parked and locked and have it be safe and sound when you return, but this feeling of security can be quickly taken away by someone who knows how to use a laptop and reprogram a key fob. Thankfully these two criminals are behind bars, but there are still many hackers out there looking to make a quick dishonest buck.

12.12.16 - Houston Skyline

Written by Rocco Penn

A tech blogger, social media analyst, and general promoter of all things positive in the world. "Bring it. I'm ready." Find me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.