Vehicle Hackers Arrested After Successfully Stealing Over 150 Jeep Wranglers


The days of car thieves breaking the ignition cylinder with a screwdriver are long gone. In the computer age, even car theft has gone digital. Members of a motorcycle gang from Tijuana, Mexico have been arrested by the FBI after stealing more than 150 Jeep Wranglers by exploiting all those modern security measures that are supposed to make it harder to steal cars.

The perpetrators were part of Hooligans Motorcycle Gang sub-unit called Dirty 30. Since 2014, the gang would cross into southern California to scout the location of Jeep Wranglers. After snatching the vehicles, they were driven back over the border to be stripped for parts. It was allegedly a remarkably well-organized scheme that resulted in the theft of vehicles worth more than $4.5 million.

The gang was split up into crews, and each member of a crew had a specific role to play in the thefts. There was a leader, transporter, scout, and key cutter. Court documents allege that all the thefts were carried out in the same way. First, a scout would find a Jeep Wrangler and surreptitiously obtain the vehicle identification number (VIN) from the dashboard or elsewhere on the body of the jeep. Next, the thief would use specially cut keys to steal the vehicle and hand it off to the transporter, whose job it was to get back across the border.

You may be wondering how the thieves managed to get keys that worked with all those jeeps. The FBI claims the gang was able to gain access to a confidential database of replacement key codes for Jeep Wranglers, which is why they stole that model exclusively. Authorities claim the codes came from a Jeep dealer in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Using the VIN, the gang was able to find two codes in the database: one that allowed them to cut a physical key to start the car and the other was used to hack the car’s software.



Jeep’s keys contain an authentication chip that has to be paired with the vehicle to start it. So, the replacement key would open the door, but not start the engine. The alarm would go off at this point, but the thieves would open the hood and disable the horn first. That’s where the second database code comes in. After gaining access to the vehicle, the thief would connect a handheld diagnostic computer to the Jeep’s Onboard Diagnostics System (OBD) port. The second code allowed the thief to reprogram the vehicle to accept the new key, and it would start right up. Police released the video above to show how the gang could steal a Jeep Wrangler in under two minutes.

Jeep is reviewing its authentication code system, but authorities have also recommended it alter the hood mechanism so the horn can’t be disabled.


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