OnStar To Warn, Then Stop, Stolen Cars

from the wait-until-someone-hacks-the-system dept

GM continues to expand the features of its popular OnStar system with a new service that's been talked about for years, that would allow the company to automatically stop a stolen car remotely. The last time we spoke about such a concept, it was four years ago -- and there were a lot of people worried about the idea. However, that may have been because it was the police asking for the right to stop cars remotely, rather than an individual using a private service (and they were also interested in using it to control speeders). In this case, the service would first alert the car thief that it's known they're driving a stolen car (and potentially that the police are on their way), and that OnStar is about to stop the automobile. It would then slowly halt the car -- though the driver could stop the car themselves at any time. The police apparently are excited about the possibility of this ending some high speed chases (and certainly making it easier to retrieve the car), but you have to wonder what happens if the service is hacked or malfunctioned.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 3:28pm

    Or used by...

    ...the NSA, FBI, The White House, the Department of Homeland Security or some other corrupt fascist wing of our Beloved Fatherland.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Oy, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 3:38pm

    Re: Or used by...

    Interesting thought from the conspiracy theory people.

    Personally would not see a problem with this and would like to see it happen in more vehicles. imagine the reduction in insurance costs that would come with this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Overcast, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 3:39pm

    Like an open invitation to hackers. What if someone stops cars on a dark road as they pass with bad intentions. Hello major lawsuit.. Plus as the cars age, it's one more thing to go bad. Or maybe if you didn't make your car payment or insurance payment... wow limitless options..

    Although, in theory I guess it's good, as long as it's something you can 'opt out' of.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Overcast, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 3:40pm

    imagine the reduction in insurance costs that would come with this.

    lol, now that's a pipe dream...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Haywood, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 3:57pm


    Tony Soprano had his onstar disconnected before he left the dealers lot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 4:15pm

    Easy as Pie

    Anyone that has the mental capacity to steal any modern car could easily defeat OnStar by disconnecting the antenna from the unit--rendering it completely useless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Danny, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 4:29pm

    I don't know...

    I'm kinda in the corner of comment #1. It would be far too easy for Homeland Security or some other body to sudden decide this would be a necessity for national security and would decide to give themselves the ability to tap into it (at anytime and without going through any legal channels) for "suspected terrorists". Comment #2 I wouldn't be so quick to shout conspiracy theory. The government already wants the ability to tap phones without needed permission.

    Let's not forgett the nongovernmental factors. Hackers? Police going on a mistaken ID and shutting down the wrong car? A person get mad at their spouse and calls claiming that their vehicle was stolen ("Hello, my wife's/husband's car was stolen and she/he was hurt please shut down the vehicle)? In any of those situations how long would it take to get the car up and running again? Who would be held responsible if and improper shut down led to an accident or worse?

    And I'll bet anything that there will certain vehicle owners that will just happen to be exempt from this if it were to happen.

    Oh and comment #2 you are indeed living in a fantasy if you think this would lower insurance rates. At best only car prices would go up and at worst car and insurance prices would go up. Car manufacturers would pass the cost of installing these units on to car buyers and insurance dealers would raise the premiums of anyone who didn't have one (since not having one would suddenly make them a "high risk driver")

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Trerro, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 4:35pm

    It's a useful security feature, and as long as it remains purely a business relationship between Onstar and the driver, where the car can only be shut down with express permission from its owner, I don't see an issue here.

    It's true that someone who can steal a modern car without having the key isn't going to be hindered by Onstar, but I'm pretty sure a lot more car thefts fall under either the 'guy gets jacked while he leaves the keys in the ignition and picks up a pizza' or the 'someone pulls a gun and demands the key' than the 'intelligent thief figures out exactly how the car's computer for your exact model works and hacks it well enough to get it to start, all fast enough to not be noticed by anyone in the area.'

    It may not be the best security device in the world, but has value with no real downside (other than cost - but the consumer decides if it's worth the money or not), so why not?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    SomeUser, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 4:45pm

    What about speed limits?

    So long as this remains a feature only available to registered onstar users, and not law enforcement et al, this should be fine.

    My bigger concern comes when OnStar is mandated by local law enforcement, and they use it to both track drivers and their speed, as well as to regulate their speed.

    "This is Gary from Onstar, Mr. User. The local highway patrol are concerned about the speed at which your vehicle is travelling, so we'll be slowing you down to 5 Mph below the limit."

    Thanks for using OnStar, indeed...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Kevin, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 4:45pm

    Re: Re: Or used by...

    Personally would not see a problem with this and would like to see it happen in more vehicles. imagine the reduction in insurance costs that would come with this.

    Just like the reduction in insurance rates that we got when auto manufacturers started shipping cars with special keys with encrypted ignition codes that supposedly made the cars impossible to steal. Oh wait...rates didn't go down then, they stayed the same. The only difference was that when one of those cars was stolen the insurance company would claim that it had to be someone trying to scam them, and refused to pay out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 4:49pm

    Want to reduce your insurance costs? Move where people know how to drive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Loki (profile), Oct 9th, 2007 @ 5:34pm

    Patriot Act?

    Doesn't this encompass (or should i say leave open to interpretation??) the use of such service?? There could be terrorists in that there Escalade...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    AZ, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 5:41pm


    Wake up people. Let the government get more control on us so they can stop us from running away even if we are innocent. This is crap and anybody who supports this needs to wake up and smell reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Keith, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 5:42pm

    I said this years ago

    I have been a mechanic for years, and after I saw the first ads for OnStar, I said to people "Don't you think that if they can start and unlock your car remotely, that they can stop and lock it remotely too?" The typical response was "why would they do that?" I would say "You probably don't want to know". Well, here it is. This a step is such the wrong direction. Why indeed!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Michael Long, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 5:55pm

    Safer for the car, but not for you...

    Of course, this gives the car-jacker that much more incentive to shot you so you're not calling OnStar, or the police, or both.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    HaTaX, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 7:01pm

    Just another thing for a theif to bypass

    OnStar is reliant on cellular network availability:


    If a thief were to really want the vehicle and was a professional or knew how to deal with a GM vehicle, he would just cut the communication to OnStar and poof, problem solved.

    This may be helpful for some incidents, but I don't see it as a catch all.

    I personally wouldn't own a vehicle with OnStar, I think if I lock my keys in it's my own dumb fault and will just retrieve my $2 cut copy of my key without the chip and open my door. Don't need the chip to turn the tumbler. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    wizass, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 7:15pm

    Re: stupid

    "so they can stop us from running away even if we are innocent"? Innocent people don't run away from the police, they just pull over. I hope you aren't a breeder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Warlok, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 7:23pm

    Re: Re: stupid

    This idea isn't so stupid. There have been tons of accounts where someone in the "government" decided to use a once useful tool to convict the wrong people of crimes. And with the way things are these days, even the innocent people have a reason to run

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2007 @ 6:23am

    It is truly amazing how many people think that the police are the good guys and not just another set of street thugs. That this is not a set op people out to do people harm, steal from them, and/or make slaves of them. Unfortunately 20th Century history shows the exact opposite as the Gaspo, KGB, Red Brigade (China), Pole Pots, Argentina Generals, Chilean Generals et have one thing in common. They were the legal authors at the time in their perspective country. Americas are descendants of people who fled, voluntary and involuntary, Europe, Africa, and Asia to escape from such Tierney. American has had a long history with such oppressors be that Regulators (West Coast), German Bund (North), KKK (South) and a number of lesser known groups masquerading as eliminate law enforcement which does not even began to approach the use of legal law enforcement in illegal ways which is so relevant that books have been written on subject. What I fail to understand is give this world history and American history why any one would assume that any power given to the police will not be miss used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Poomer, Oct 10th, 2007 @ 6:25am

    Live Free or Die Hard anyone?

    Have you seen "Live Free or Die Hard"? The movie shows how to carjack an onStar equiped vehicle. LoL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, Oct 10th, 2007 @ 6:50am

    Too much data for any TLA to resist; plus hacking

    The OnStar network's data repositories represent a
    treasure trove far too attractive for any of the
    various three-letter-agencies to resist. I'd be
    very surprised indeed if the TLAs hadn't already presented them
    with a national security letter demanding complete
    access to them (with of course no disclosure to
    the public of this activity).

    As to hacking, I wonder what it would take to
    have the system stop them ALL. Or perhaps just
    every tenth car on every highway leading into
    Chicago at 8 AM on a Monday morning. And so on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Overcast, Oct 10th, 2007 @ 12:29pm

    "I'm sorry sir, you have an unpaid parking ticket for $20.00, I realize it's only been overdue one day, but you still won't be able to get into your car, even for just your wallet - until you pay the ticket"

    or perhaps:

    "I'm sorry there seems to be a mix-up sir, but you are not allowed to drive, even if you claim you have paid your auto-insurance, as the insurance company hasn't confirmed your payment this month. One second, I'll double check..... .. . Sorry this is taking so long, we are having computer trouble"

    Or Maybe:

    "I'm sorry Maam, our records show your credit card was just used at a bar to buy 3 beers. Even if you claim you were only buying for a friend and not drinking yourself, your car will remain locked until Police get there to verify you are not intoxicated, and yes, I'm sorry - but a rule is a rule, even if it is 5 degrees below zero out"

    Maybe even:

    "Sir, our records show you are 50 pounds overweight. Your Doctor says you need to loose weight as you have been this way for two years. With new laws regarding physical fitness in the national health care system, you will have to walk to work and the store today"

    Yeah, sounds wonderful - the more I think about it, the more I worry they will in fact, try this crap. Heck, think I'll just buy older cars, lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    DittoBox, Oct 11th, 2007 @ 8:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Or used by...

    Worse off you can only get those keys and the starter among other parts from a dealer. No after-market goodness. That means that down the road when that part of your car craps out and the car company doesn't exist or doesn't make that part anymore you are screwed.

    More importantly the car company can severely inflate the price without penalty because the DMCA gives them every right to keep after-market parts out of the market.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    EvanR, Aug 25th, 2010 @ 11:47am

    Some pretty impressive technology from OnStar... yet another benefit to help all of the auto dealerships sell Cadillac and GM vehicles. I believe they are still the only manufacturer with OnStar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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