Auto Theft via Text Messaging

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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.