Computer carjacking risk becomes reality

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The ABC7 I-Team reported on the risk two years ago: hackers who could gain access to your car through the vehicle's onboard computer. That risk has become reality. (WLS)

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
The ABC7 I-Team reported on the risk two years ago: hackers who could gain access to your car through the vehicle's on board computer. That risk has become reality.

There are computer carjackers, according to police, that are using laptops instead of keys. Investigators said two men stole at least thirty Jeeps and Dodge vehicles. It happened in Houston but it could happen anywhere just as an I-Team report warned two years ago.

Automotive security experts showed the I-Team in 2014 how easy hackers could gain access to a car, what they called computers on wheels, access through a port that hooks right into a vehicle computer systems, designed for diagnostics at an auto repair shop, but could be used by hackers to start and steal a vehicle.

"As you get more and more computers installed in vehicles, if somebody has that knowledge and that ability, they can turn it around and figure out a way to manipulate the system," Officer Jim Woods, Houston Police Department, said.

Houston police said that is just what these two men did, hacking into vehicles through their on board computers and then driving away.

Detectives confounded by the alleged criminals armed with laptops said they had the two men on the surveillance videos but just couldn't nab them.

Authorities said the videos show the men carrying laptops into cars that were sometimes unlocked, but then in just a few minutes they were allegedly able to use the laptops to start the cars and drive off.

Police say they used the surveillance video to tracked 24 year old Michael Arce and 22-year-old Jesse Zelaya. The pair was arrested last Friday and charged with numerous felonies.

"No matter what you do, you have to realize, if somebody has the ability and the knowledge to steal your car, they're going to be able to take it. There's not a whole lot you can do about it," Officer Woods said.

The automakers warned about this at least two years ago and are now beginning to realize the seriousness of the threat.

On Thursday, Fiat Chrysler officials said they have an internal investigation underway into the theft of more than 100 of their vehicles in Houston alone. A spokesman said employees at some of its dealerships, independent repair facilities and locksmiths may have sold database information to criminals.
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