Hackers Steal More Than 100 Hi-tech Cars and Jeeps, Transport Them to Mexico – Caught on Surveillance Tapes

If you own a hi-tech car or jeep, beware from a new hacker gang which fobs your car pass using hacking software to steal it and sell it across the borders in Mexico. Police in Houston have busted a crime ring which stole more than 100 hi-tech cars and jeeps using pirated hacking software to duplicate the car keys. Michael Arce, 24, and Jesse Zelaya, 22, focused on new Jeep and Dodge vehicles, which attract big money on the black market in Mexico, authorities said. The men allegedly used a laptop computer to reprogram the targeted vehicles’ electronic security so their own key worked.

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The stolen vehicles had a common software that’s used by auto technicians and dealers, Houston police officer Jim Woods said. The hackers got access to the computerised data base of key passes and hacked them to work with their own keys using a specialised software according to Woods.

“As you get more and more computers installed in vehicles—if somebody has that knowledge and that ability, they can turn around and figure out a way to manipulate the system,” he said.

Fiat Chrysler, which makes Jeeps and Dodges, and police are investigating how the thieves got access to a computerized database of codes used by dealers, locksmiths and independent auto repair shops to replace lost key fobs, said Berj Alexanian, a spokesman at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan. He said the code database is national and includes vehicles in areas outside of Houston, although he wasn’t aware of similar thefts elsewhere.



The car makers maintain a national code database of car passes of all over United States. It seems, somehow the hackers/car theives were able to access this database and fob the key passes to cars and jeeps.

“We’re looking at every and all solution to make sure our customers can safely and without thinking park their vehicles,” Alexanian said Friday.

The police investigation began in late May with the theft of a Jeep Wrangler near downtown Houston. Leads, in that case, had been exhausted when investigators received information from federal Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers about vehicles being stolen using a laptop.

Police identified Arce and Zelaya as the ringmasters of this hacking and car-stealing gang. The police recovered electronic devices, keys, and other tools believed used in the thefts, along with drugs, firearms and body armor.

In the Jeep Wrangler case caught on a surveillance video, the suspect got under the hood, cut wires to the horn to disable an alarm and then got inside the SUV. Once inside, he used the database and the vehicle identification number to program a new key fob for the Jeep.

Arce remained in jail without bond on charges of unauthorized use of a vehicle, felony possession of a weapon, and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. He was set for a court appearance Aug. 26.

Zelaya is being held on $500,000 bond on a charge of unauthorized use of a vehicle and was due in court Wednesday.

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