Houston Jeep and Ram Thieves Aren't Hackers: FCA

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
houston jeep and ram thieves aren t hackers fca

Jeep and Ram vehicles are being snatched out of driveways in Houston, but the thieves aren’t hacking their way to a free ride, according to the automaker’s U.S. head of security architecture.

A rash of thefts over the past few months in the Houston area had owners of Jeep and Ram vehicles scratching their heads until a garage surveillance video posted by police showed two men making off with a Wrangler. One of the men appears to use a laptop to start up the vehicle, raising fears that tech-minded thieves have developed a program to override security features and commandeer certain vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is working with the Houston Police Department on the case, but claims the video is misleading.

“We don’t see anything that would be a security hack — there’s no new software or new tool used in any of these thefts,” Titus Melnyk, FCA’s senior manager of security architecture, told TTAC.

Opening the hood of a vehicle with tie-down latches and disabling a horn to prevent an audible alarm is a easy job for a thief, he said, and there are many ways of unlocking a vehicle. Once FCA staff watched the video, it became reasonably clear how the thief was able to drive off.

“Once they’re inside, they’re connecting a laptop which is running the software necessary to marry or join a key fob to the vehicle,” said Melnyk. “Not just anyone can do that — you need to have access to our systems in order to get the information necessary from each vehicle to marry a key fob. We’re working with law enforcement about how these thieves are getting their hands on those. This isn’t just a problem for us, it’s an auto industry issue. Dealers and locksmiths now, they’re all authorized to get this information. Based on what we’re seeing, it appears that they’re getting those PINs or vehicle-specific information for the vehicles they’re stealing in order to do this theft.”

For Melnyk and his team, the thefts aren’t due to a flaw in FCA hardware, but by “people abusing their privileges.” For the sake of the investigation, he couldn’t comment further on how the thieves gained access to the dealer information, but he stressed the vehicle’s systems are working as intended.

“When people see a laptop, I think they’re assuming something new is going on.”

FCA has reason to be sensitive to claims of its vehicles being hackable. Last year, it recalled 1.4 million vehicles over hacking concerns after it was demonstrated that the key driving functions of a Jeep Grand Cherokee test vehicle could be commandeered remotely. In that test, hackers exploited a weakness in the vehicle’s Uconnect infotainment software to gain access to more important functions.

FCA installed a software patch to prevent any remote tampering.

[Image: FCA US]

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  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jul 14, 2016

    "These aren't hackers. They're just stealing information via computer, then using the computer to steal the car. That's not hacking." Errrrr.

  • NeilM NeilM on Jul 14, 2016

    Our two older BMWs (1996 and 2003) have keys with chips in them that are exclusively paired to the ECU. With each new car the owner received 4 keys: 2 normal, 1 valet and one emergency (all plastic) key. Each car has a 10 key lifetime allocation, counting the originals. Replacements are available through your BMW dealer, but have to be ordered in from the BMW mothership, and ID checks and proof of ownership are required. Other than the original 10 key allocation no new keys can be made to work with the ECU. A fairly secure system, although if your 10 keys are all gone you'll be in a world of hurt.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂