Police and car insurers say thieves are using laptop computers to hack into late-model carsâ electronic ignitions to steal the vehicles, raising alarms about the auto industryâs greater use of computer controls.
The discovery follows a recent incident in Houston in which a pair of car thieves were caught on camera using a laptop to start a 2010 Jeep Wrangler and steal it from the ownerâs driveway. Police say the same method may have been used in the theft of four other late-model Wranglers and Cherokees in the city. None of the vehicles has been recovered.
âIf you are going to hot-wire a car, you donât bring along a laptop,â said Senior Officer James Woods, who has spent 23 years in the Houston Police Departmentâs auto antitheft unit. âWe donât know what he is exactly doing with the laptop, but my guess is he is tapping into the carâs computer and marrying it with a key he may already have with him so he can start the car.â
The National Insurance Crime Bureau, an insurance-industry group that tracks car thefts across the U.S., said it recently has begun to see police reports that tie thefts of newer-model cars to what it calls âmysteryâ electronic devices.
âWe think it is becoming the new way of stealing cars,â said NICB Vice President Roger Morris. âThe public, law enforcement and the manufacturers need to be aware.â
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV
Â said it is unaware of any such incidents involving its vehicles. The auto maker said it âtakes the safety and security of its customers seriously and incorporates security features in its vehicles that help to reduce the risk of unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems and wireless communications.â
The recent reports highlight the vulnerabilities created as cars become more computerized and advanced technology finds its way into more vehicles. Fiat Chrysler, General Motors Co.
Â and Tesla Motors Inc.
Â have had to alter their car electronics over the last two years after learning their vehicles could be hacked.