After a two-year investigation, the FBI has arrested a motorcycle gang that was traveling around Southern California to find and steal newer model Jeep Wranglers. The Hooligans Motorcycle Club, based in Tijuana, Mexico had developed a hacking tactic that allowed them to essentially take ownership of the Jeep Wrangler.
California Highway Patrol Officer demonstrating Jeep Wrangler theft.
In order to achieve this, the motorcycle gang was very well organized and had separate roles. They were a sub-unit called Dirty 30. The gang members organized in crews and started scouting the area for newer Jeep Wranglers. First, the scouts would identify motorcycles and Jeep Wranglers they wanted to steal. Stealing motorcycles is easy as you can simply bypass the ignition switch, Jeep Wranglers on the other side require gadgets.
To hack the vehicles, the scout would first read the VIN of the car and pass it to the key cutter via Facebook. Key cutters had access to a database of replacement key codes for Jeep Wranglers. The database was located in a Jeep dealer in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. They key cutters would then download two codes from the database, using the first one to cut a physical replacement key. The newly cut key was then passed to the crew in charge of stealing the vehicle.
A replacement key however is not enough to steal a new Jeep Wrangler. The chip inside the car would not connect and authenticate with the key, thus not starting the vehicle. The Hooligans would then use external latches to disable the car's alarm system, triggering the back lights only that would be physically covered by crew members. The replacement key was used to get into the car, and the thieves would then connect a handheld vehicle programming computer via the Jeep Onboard Diagnostics System port, using the second code they received to synchronize their initial key, thus starting the car.
Check out the video below showing the thieves in action, stealing a car in under 2 minutes.
The Jeep Wranglers were then driven to Mexico where they were stripped for parts or sold as a whole. Authorities estimate a value of over $4.5 million, starting from 2014. Over 150 Jeep Wranglers have been stolen by this motorcycle gang using the same technique, and FBI was finally able to catch them under the codename "Operation Last Ride.".
Is this a sign that overuse of technology in automobiles could open unauthorized access pathways, previously never thought of?