PhotoThe old method of a car thief breaking into your car and “hot wiring” the ignition to make off with it is getting pretty dated.

With so many cars run by onboard computers these days, car thieves have gone digital. And it's pretty effective.

The FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report shows an uptick in auto theft last year, compared with the year before. The FBI says as cars have become more sophisticated, so have car thieves.

"Vehicle theft is starting to shift because of advanced techniques introduced by the Connected Vehicle Thief," said Patrick Clancy, Vice-President of LoJack Law Enforcement, a division of the vehicle tracking and recovery company.

Stealing information too

Clancy says today's car thieves are not only using technology to steal sophisticated, connected vehicles, they are also tapping into sensitive data that might be stored in these vehicle systems.

Sometimes, they don't even have to take possession of the vehicle to get money out of it. For example, Lojack says some thieves are using ransomware to take over the car's computer system. They can disable functions like brakes or ignition, rendering the car undrivable until a ransom is paid.

Once the system is breached, thieves can steal data that might be contained in it, such as credit card details, Social Security numbers, and drivers license numbers.

Car cloning

But Lojack says technical savvy can help a car thief steal a connected car with ease. One way is with something called “car cloning.” With the right training, a thief may create and install a bogus vehicle identification number (VIN), so the stolen car doesn't appear to be stolen. Really clever thieves can use the stolen VINs to make fake new documents, hiding the fact that the car is actually stolen.

And locking a vehicle doesn't always keep a really clever thief out. Using something called a scanner box, a thief can easily break into a vehicle that utilizes key fobs.

The scanner box device allows a thief to break into the electronic system to unlock, and even start the vehicle.

Lojack says there are ways to guard against the cyber car thief, but it requires vigilance. Owners should also realize that personal data stored in the vehicle could be at risk.

When new software for your vehicle becomes available, make sure you download it. Keep up with vehicle-enabled cyberattacks, and stay alert for any security recalls or alerts.

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