Some car dealerships and lenders have equipped cars with devices that disable the ignition or make the horn honk nonstop when payments are late. We wrote about this last year, but didn’t realize that the interface has fantastic potential for pranks. And that’s how a laid-off car dealership employee was allegedly able to disable the ignitions of more than 100 cars purchased from the dealership. Or set off their horns in the middle of the night.
“We initially dismissed it as mechanical failure,” says Texas Auto Center manager Martin Garcia. “We started having a rash of up to a hundred customers at one time complaining. Some customers complained of the horns going off in the middle of the night. The only option they had was to remove the battery.”
The dealership used a system called Webtech Plus as an alternative to repossessing vehicles that haven’t been paid for. Operated by Cleveland-based Pay Technologies, the system lets car dealers install a small black box under vehicle dashboards that responds to commands issued through a central website, and relayed over a wireless pager network. The dealer can disable a car’s ignition system, or trigger the horn to begin honking, as a reminder that a payment is due. The system will not stop a running vehicle.
Police were able to track the culprit through his home IP address, meaning that in spite of Wired’s headline, he wasn’t much of a “hacker.”