Modern computer systems make cars a prime target for hackers: report

Tech-savvy crooks could take advantage of a new target that's ripe for the hacking: your car, a study released Wednesday by security software provider McAfee revealed.

The same technology that makes operating a car almost like playing a video game - like systems that allow for remote starting or for doors to be unlocked with the push of a cell phone button - also puts a ride at a greater risk of being hacked, the report says.

By tapping into the increasingly sophisticated systems, malicious tech whizzes can track a car's location and steal control of the vehicle - theoretically taking the driver's safety out of their hands, the report says.
Hackers could even gain access to a driver's highly sensitive personal info if computerized devices - like smartphones or tablets - are linked to a car's embedded systems.

The report says the must-have computerized devices may be a Catch-22.

"The ever-growing number of embedded systems and integrated communications in modern automobiles have provided the convenience and personalization that consumers crave," it says.

"But 10 years from now, will these same systems continue to hold consumer confidence, or will they quickly become another avenue for malware and breach of privacy data?"

The report highlights cases where scientists and security experts hacked into a car's remote disabling system using only a standard laptop and software called "CarShark."

The same group also managed to steal personal information through a Bluetooth connection.

According to McAfee's report, there's been no known serious hacking of an automotive system thus far, but it notes the case of a disgruntled car dealership employee who disabled 100 cars by tinkering with their security systems.

The increased vulnerability of cars to techie attacks has the automotive industry on edge.

Dan Flores, a spokesman for General Motors, told Fox News the auto giant considers vehicle security "a top priority."

"We are focused on equipping our vehicles with both the features and security protections our customers want and need," he said.

Chrysler tries to fend off potential hack attacks by regularly updating its software and continuing to search for glitches that could give hackers access to the systems.

Still, nothing is foolproof, engineering communications manager Vince Munija told Fox News.

"If someone spends eight months trying to unlock the doors, they probably can, but we try to make the firewalls as bulletproof as possible," Munija said.


My Review: Bait car cases dismissed in San Francisco

As an avid watcher of the Bait Car program, I have no doubt in my mind each person who drives off with that car has criminal intent. At the end of the day, each culprit broke the law. Only in California can someone get away with a deed like that. I would be interested to know why half of the cases we dismissed? Lack of evidence? Apparently the production company of Bait Car refused to hand over the video footage of the incidents, footage that could be potentially used for evidence.
Entrapment is another defense that could be used, especially if the judge ruled that the culprits were simply "joyriding"
It all boils down to the fact that the show was set up for entertainment purposes, to show on TV and to make money off of it. Producers wanted a good product and they got one, regardless of whether or not the subjects end up going to jail. How much could the show producers care? They got their footage and laughed all the way to the bank.
The losers are the taxpayers, where all the city's resources involved in setting up this operation were squandered for busting half a dozen culprits.
Maybe the moral of the story is not to trust a unattended vehicle. Hopefully the show serves as a deterrent. I am planning on starting some blog posts on keeping your vehicle safe and secured. Stay tuned.

More Bait Car Cases Dismissed in San Francisco Court

A year after truTV's Bait Car rolled into town to catch San Franciscans on camera "stealing" vehicles, more than half of the resulting criminal cases have been dismissed, the public defender's office says.

We wrote a cover story on the police department's money-making gig with the reality TV channel earlier this year -- the show paid the cops more than $200,000 in overtime and gave the SFPD two fancy bait cars for its fleet in return for police staging the operation on camera. At that time, the cops told us they arrested 32 people.

While the show paints all of the culprits as real car thieves, the judicial system has come to a very different conclusion. First, the district attorney charged the defendants with joyriding charges -- which has a lower burden of proof than grand theft auto cases. To date, of the 18 cases handled by the Public Defender's Office, 11 have been dismissed, raising questions about the reality show's public safety payoff.
"It seems like an extraordinary waste of money for nothing," says Evan Budaj, an attorney at the Public Defender's Office who has worked on the cases. The cases, "are all getting dismissed or shuffled off for very little. The district attorney's spokeswoman said she'd call us with complete statistics on case dismissals as soon as she had them." (Some cases were handled by private defense attorneys, and one man represented himself at trial.) We'll update when we have more information.

SFPD told us that while they were doing the operation for a TV show, their ultimate goal was to catch car thieves. But Budaj argues that the show doesn't really care what happens to the alleged thieves when the cameras stop rolling. Rather, taxpayers end up footing the bill for the accused joyriders on trial.

"I heard it costs them $200 dollars to put a line on [the court's] calendar for a particular day, with the administrative costs and clerks," Budaj says. He noted that he handed a recent case where the defendant had 23 court dates, and then was dismissed. "I think the people's reluctance to bring these [cases] to trial just further shows it was about the money, the TV show, and the cars that were donated to the city."

Budaj says the most recent dismissals came after the district attorney handed over the production company's footage of the alleged joyriding incidents. Hollywood-based KKI Productions initially resisted turning over footage of the arrests, citing the Shield Law for reporters. But two San Francisco judges ruled that KKI had waived its right to the Shield Law in its contract with the city, which stated the company would hand over any footage requested by the district or city attorney.

Budaj speculates that the footage played into the district attorney's decision to dismiss the recent cases.

"I always knew that this whole practice was kind of shady, and I'd like to think the district attorney seeing these videos might have forced them to see what was really happening and see themselves that it was not entirely straightforward," he told us. "It wasn't about catching people doing something wrong -- It was about creating something wrong for people to do and watching them do it."


HPD Says: Please Help Us Find The Guys Who Stole Our Bait Car

The idea behind police bait cars is a sound one -- rig up a car that's just begging to be stolen, put it in a vulnerable spot and then wait for a thief to try his luck.

It doesn't always work, though. KHOU reports that HPD is asking for the public's assistance in locating two dudes who made off with a bait car outside Greenspoint Mall recently

"When the SUV was taken, investigators were notified electronically, but before they could get to the scene or log on to their tracking device, the men dumped the vehicle in an apartment complex," the station says.

Why are we reminded of this?

You know how to set up the bait car, you just don't know how to keep track of the bait car.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Houston Police Department Auto Theft Division at 713-308-3500.



Los Angeles authorities have arrested three men who allegedly stole a car featured on the reality TV show "Bait Car."
The car is rigged to record potential thieves using a hidden video camera and to trap them in the vehicle until officers can show up to arrest them.

Standard stuff right?

But on Aug. 8th there was a mechanical malfunction that allowed four men to steal the sedan at La Brea Avenue near 30th Street and drive off instead of getting trapped.


The vehicle is used by an auto-theft task force of the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff, said LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith.
"Bait Car," which runs on cable network TruTV, films some of the task force's cases, but it's not clear whether crews were filming the day the car was stolen.
The car, which authorities would not describe because they didn't want to tip off future potential thieves, was recovered later that day.
Two men were arrested the day the car was stolen, but the other two were still being sought in the crime, police said. After almost a month, an officer with the LAPD Hollywood Division's Parole Impact team saw a bulletin containing a still photo from video of the theft and recognized a probationer known to frequent the area.
Within an hour, officers had collared the man, whose identity was not immediately released because the investigation is continuing.
In the last eight months, the Parole Impact Team has contacted some 400 parolees and arrested approximately 175 of them for parole violations, Smith said.