Auto Theft via Text Messaging

Sue Marquette Poremba
Slide Show

Smartphone Security: Alarming Complacency Among Mobile Users

Most consumers are unaware of the security risks associated with their smartphones.

Perhaps you've seen this commercial: A man calls his wife while she's boarding a plane so she can use her smartphone to start the engine of her car. The man's buddy is impressed by the technology. The commercial ends with the door locks going up and down by themselves and the man says, "Now she's just teasing us."

 

It's cool technology, to be able to operate your car from your phone, but I often wonder about the security behind the technology. How easy would it be for someone to steal your car by using a phone?

 

Well, it appears some researchers have found that it is possible to use text messaging to break into a car using the vehicle's anti-theft system. According to a USA Today article:

Researchers from iSEC Partners recently demonstrated such an attack on a Subaru Outback equipped with a vulnerable alarm system, which wasn't identified. With a laptop perched on the hood, they sent the Subaru's alarm system commands to unlock the doors and start the engine.

Text messaging, apparently, is a powerful tool because a user can't block texts.


 

Now, there are a few positive notes to this story. Stealing a car by this method isn't easy. The hacker needs to know the secret phone number of the alarm system, and once he knows that, he needs to know that the phone number he has is for the alarm system of the car he wants to break into. These things aren't simple, but they also aren't impossible.

 

Still, the idea that a text message can take control of a vehicle is a bit chilling. According to the USA Today article:

It raises the possibility of other, more sinister dangers, such as those potentially affecting braking and acceleration, said Scott Borg, director of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, a group that studies hacking threats. That becomes possible as networked electronics are more tightly coupled with physical machinery.

PC World added that the researchers are concerned that text messaging hacks could be used in other situations, such as hacking ATMs or even utilities.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 27, 2011 12:55 PM Neil Kirchoff Neil Kirchoff  says:

This is the first time I've heard about something like this. I just managed to get back my car ( one of those class B motorhomes ). It was stolen 1 week earlier and as far as I know the thief is now dead because he opened fire at the cops! He deserved it! Hope that everyone saw  what happens to thieves!

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Dec 30, 2011 1:28 AM Jamie Peri Jamie Peri  says:

I recently bought a car from a used cars Philadelphia PA dealership and now I want to modify it and make it state of the art. It doesn't matter how much I spend on it because money is not an issue. This post gave me a good idea on what to implement on it when it will be functional.

Reply
Dec 30, 2011 10:10 AM Neil Kirchoff Neil Kirchoff  says:

I recently rented a car from a Fox Rent A Car company and they linked the car to my smartphone so I could do that too. Practically the key tops the phone. If you insert the key in the contact or the code the link between the phone and the car goes offline. Still I really enjoyed starting the car when I was just getting out of the hotel.

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Sep 21, 2012 2:04 PM John Kerr John Kerr  says:
I can't believe I'm just now hearing about this! My Subaru got stolen under equally suspicious circumstances last year, I wonder if that's how they did it!! My friend got a security system installed last year from Philadelphia Chevrolet Dealer and apparently now they have safe guards against this kind of thing. Great post! Thanks! Reply

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