Stealing cars via USB cable is becoming a trend in the USA

from Claus Ludewig
The number of stolen Kia and Hyundai models is increasing in the USA. The background is the Kia Challenge in which a car is stolen via a USB cable.

More and more drivers enjoy the convenience of keyless access to the vehicle, so the key can remain in the pocket and a simple pull on the door handle is all it takes to open the car. However, keyless access is relatively easy to hack and therefore insecure, as the ADAC recently discovered. Keyless access is only comparatively secure in a few vehicles, as they use UWB technology, which has been available in smartphones since 2019. In Germany, the frequency ranges between 30 MHz and 10.6 GHz have been released for UWB since 2008, whereby – theoretically – data rates between 480 and 1,320 Mbit/s can be achieved. In the USA, the Kia Challenge is currently doing the rounds, in which cars are simply stolen using a USB stick. For this purpose, the vehicles only have to be open, which apparently often happens in the USA.

Driving without a car key just with a USB cable

In early July, a user posted a video on the Tiktok social media platform. The video clip shows how a user can only start an already opened Kia with a USB stick. All Kia vehicles from model years 2011 to 2021 and Hyundai vehicles from model years 2015 to 2021 are affected. There is a USB port under the steering wheel cover on cars from the two South Korean brands. So it is possible to start a Kia or Hyundai via USB cable, according to the police in Norfolk. Thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles in the USA are currently increasing sharply. With the videos, users want to draw attention to themselves and attract more followers. After a minute, the cars ask for a vehicle key that is linked to the Kia or Hyundai. In other words: You can drive an unlocked Kia or Hyundai for a minute without a car key, but with a USB stick. According to Kia, everyone has 2022 model year and later vehicles sold in the United States were equipped with an immobilizer integrated. If you want, you can also retrofit an immobilizer in your car. It is unclear whether vehicles in Europe are also affected.

For car manufacturers, security measures such as keyless access to the car or keyless starting of the vehicle are easy to advertise, but securing them costs money. Protection is possible with ultra-broadband technology. Vehicles with UWB only open when the key is within a maximum of 30 centimeters of the door handle. If the signal propagation time is too long, the car stays closed. In order to be able to use the UWB technology, however, special chips are required. Apple installed from the iPhone 11 the so-called U1 chip, which relies on UWB technology. Samsung also offers some smartphones with a UWB chip.

Also worth reading: Auto Technique: Keyless entry can easily be hacked

Collection for the Kia Challenge:

  • In the USA, the Kia Challenge is currently trending on Tiktok. Thieves film themselves stealing a Kia or Hyundai that is already open in a parking lot.
  • However, no original car key is required to start the engine; a USB cable that is plugged into the USB port behind the steering wheel cover is sufficient. You can drive a Kia or Hyundai for a minute before you need a suitable car key again.
  • All Kia vehicles built between 2011 and 2021 and Hyundai vehicles from model years 2015 to 2021 are affected. It is not known whether there are similar problems with cars in Europe.
  • In the USA, all models built after 2022 will be equipped with an immobilizer.

Sources: The City of Norfolk, Autoblog