Investigators suspect the duo may have lifted more than 100 vehicles using a laptop computer.Police have arrested two suspects accused of using laptop computers and 'pirated software' to steal Jeeps.Investigators believe the duo may be responsible for stealing more than 100 vehicles in the Houston area. Security camera footage recently showed a Wrangler lifted in just a few minutes, without the owner's keys. Tellingly, the thief spent the duration of the heist on a laptop computer.
The video raised concerns that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles could be facing another hacking debacle, just a year after 1.4 million vehicles were recalled to patch a security vulnerability in the company's Uconnect infotainment system.
The Houston Police Department's auto-theft division first launched an investigation in May. The unique methods reportedly came to light when Customs and Immigration Enforcement officials tipped off local police that thieves may be using computers.
"[Suspects Jesse Zelaya and Michael Arce] are believed to have stolen Jeep Wranglers, Cherokees and Dodge pickup trucks and then transported them across the US Mexico border, usually in the overnight hours before vehicle owners were aware they had been stolen," HPD said in a statement.
FCA claims the thieves obtained software that is intended to be used only by dealers, locksmiths and service shops. Authorized users simply enter the vehicle's VIN and the tool will reprogram the vehicle's computer for a new key fob. In the hands of a thief, the key fob can immediately be used to start the vehicle and head toward Mexico.
The automaker has not disclosed specific details regarding security provisions that help protect against unauthorized use of the reprogramming tool. Speaking to the Houston Chronicle, one officer suggests the alleged thieves were using 'pirated software.' The comment leaves open the possibility that other criminals may have access to the same tools, however such a scenario has not been explicitly confirmed.
"FCA US has been cooperating with Houston Police Department since they first started the investigation," the company said in a statement. "This investigation is ongoing and as such, the Company has no further comment."