Biker group charged with hacking hundreds of Jeeps, motorcycles in crime spree

Members of the Hooligans Motorcycle Club allegedly used stolen dealer credentials to duplicate keys.

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CNET

A motorcycle club has caught the attention of US prosecutors after allegedly making millions of dollars through hacking and stealing hundreds of Jeep Wranglers and motorbikes.

As reported by The Register, in an indictment (.PDF) dated 23 May 2017, the San Diego office of the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and FBI say that nine members of the group, based in Tijuana, Mexico, were part of a two and a half year scheme to steal vehicles.

Although the exact date of the auto theft ring's beginning is unknown, prosecutors say that the club members began stealing vehicles from the US no later than January 2014 until September 2016.

Targeting mainly Jeep Wranglers and a variety of motorbikes in California, the group used scouts to source their targets before obtaining vehicle identification numbers (VINs), usually found on dashboards.

The VINs were then passed to other Hooligans members who had access to stolen credentials obtained from a Jeep dealer in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

These members, the so-called "key cutters," would then access a dealer database using the credentials to covertly pull out the information needed to cut and program duplicate keys and the controlling microchips within. In total, two codes per key were required.

Separated into small teams, the scouts, leaders, key cutters, and transporters would then make their way back to the target vehicle.

"Thieves and transporters would return to the targeted Jeep Wrangler with the key and the programming code and would disable certain features of the Jeep Wrangler's alarm system, including the horn and emergency flashers," US law enforcement claims. "Thieves would use the duplicate key to access the Jeep Wrangler's passenger compartment and would then use a handheld key programmer and the code received from the key cutters to program the duplicate key."

Wrestling control of the Jeep would take no longer than a few minutes to pull off.

The Jeep would then be driven back to Mexico or moved through a transporter for part stripping or sale.

When it comes to the motorcycles, the group would "turn on the motorcycles without a key by bypassing the ignition switch," -- although no technical details behind this have been revealed -- before riding them to the same location for the same fate.

Honda CBRs, Kawasaki Ninjas, and Yamaha YZF-R1 models were among those stolen.

In total, at least 28 vehicles were sold, worth approximately $800,000. However, law enforcement has reason to believe that over 150 Jeep Wranglers and motorcycles is closer to the truth, worth a combined $4.5 million.

In an online chat held between Hooligan members, one member said pertaining to another series of planned thefts, "They're going to say, damn hooligans," to which another responded, "We're a plague. They can't stop us."

Three members of the motorcycle club have been tracked down and detained, and the remaining six are believed to be in hiding in Mexico.

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