Game Boy hacks hit Hyundai, Kia! Ioniq 5, EV6 at risk. Here's how it works

Thieves are targeting Hyundai and Kia EVs with a surprisingly sophisticated hacking device disguised as a classic Nintendo Game Boy. This emulator exp
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Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6
Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 are being stolen through an emulator, not resembling a traditional hacking tool but rather a cleverly disguised handheld device reminiscent of the classic Nintendo Game Boy.
Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6
Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 are being stolen through an emulator, not resembling a traditional hacking tool but rather a cleverly disguised handheld device reminiscent of the classic Nintendo Game Boy.

Imagine waking up to find your car missing, not a single broken window, and your phone app showing it vanished into thin air. This isn't science fiction, but the new reality for some Hyundai and Kia EV owners. The culprit? A surprisingly low-tech device disguised as a childhood favourite – the Nintendo Game Boy.

Reports of stolen Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric vehicles surfaced late in 2023. Owners woke up to empty driveways or unsettling notifications on their phones – their vehicles unlocked, untraceable through the Hyundai app. This was done through an emulator, not resembling a traditional hacking tool but rather a cleverly disguised handheld device reminiscent of the classic Nintendo Game Boy. While emulators have existed for a few years, these are the first reports targeting electric vehicles from the Hyundai Motor Group (Hyundai, Kia, Genesis) specifically.

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The device exploits a vulnerability in the car's keyless entry system. When an owner touches the door handle, it activates a "handshake" protocol between the car and the key fob. The emulator intercepts this handshake and initiates its own communication with the car. Using a specific algorithm, the emulator tricks the car into believing it's a legitimate key by calculating the correct code. This process typically takes only seconds, but it can also vibrate in the thief's pocket, notifying them when the code is cracked and ready for use.

Beyond relay attacks

Relay attacks, where thieves amplify a key fob's signal to fool the car into thinking it's nearby, have been a common method for car theft. Even Teslas have been susceptible to these attacks. However, the "Game Boy" emulator bypasses the key fob altogether. In some cases, owners weren't even in the same country when their vehicles were stolen.

Also Read : In battle vs TikTok challenge, Hyundai launches anti-theft clinics for owners

Once the emulator unlocks the car, it essentially acts as a key, allowing the thief to drive away. To further evade capture, thieves can remove the car's connectivity modules, rendering GPS and in-app tracking useless.

Target range and additional security measures

A report by InsideEVs stated that resellers of the emulator claim it can steal a Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, or Genesis GV60 within seconds. Some additional models are susceptible, but require a unique PIN generated from the car's VIN, a number visible on the exterior.

Also Read : Hyundai, Kia sued by New York over vehicle thefts inspired by TikTok video

This incident highlights the evolving landscape of car theft. As technology advances, so do the methods employed by criminals. While the "Game Boy" emulator represents a clever exploit, it also underscores the need for automakers to prioritise robust security features in their vehicles, especially as electric cars become increasingly popular.

First Published Date: 04 Jul 2024, 18:48 PM IST
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