Over 100 customers of Austin, Texas-based Auto Center had to pull their batteries or call tow trucks after a wireless immobilization system backfired. The incidents turned out to be the work of an angry former employee.  (Source: Diesel Power)
Man currently faces cyber intrusion charges in Austin

Over 100 drivers in the Austin, Texas area were surprised to find their cars beeping or refusing to start.  The culprit was a miscreant mechanic, 20 year-old Omar Ramos-Lopez, who had recently been canned from his local Auto Center.

In Texas, Auto Center dealership sell autos to consumers with troubled credit, but they install a system called Webtech Plus in their cars as an alternative to repossessing vehicles of customers who miss payments.  The system can either make the car unable to start or can set the car's horn beeping non-stop.  The system is powered by a small black box under the hood, which receives wireless signals from operators at Cleveland-based Pay Technologies.  Reportedly the system is extremely safe and it is unable to stop moving vehicles.

In the last week of February, Auto Center began receiving complaints from customers who had been making their payments, but couldn't start their cars.  Many customers had to remove their batteries (to prevent the honking), call tow trucks, and cancel appointments.  When Auto Center reset its password system the troubles stopped.  The company was later able to trace the commands to an AT&T account owned by Ramos-Lopez.

Ramos-Lopez apparently was able to gain access to another employee's account, despite his own account being disabled when he was terminated as part of a "workforce reduction".  He at first only disabled the cars of people he remembered the names of, but later discovered a database he could use to search for new victims among the 1,100 owners of Auto Center vehicles with Webtech Plus installed.

Martin Garcia, manager of the Texas Auto Center that Ramos-Lopez used to work at, comments, "We initially dismissed it as mechanical failure.  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.  [Ramos-Lopez] was pretty good with computers."

Police with Austin's High Tech Crime Unit arrested Lopez and charged him with computer intrusion charges this week.  

Though wireless immobilization systems have been around for a decade, this is believed to be the first time somebody has abused the system to harm customers.  Describes Jim Krueger, co-owner of Pay Technologies, "It was a fairly straightforward situation.  He had retained a password, and what happened was he went in and created a little bit of havoc."

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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