Firstly, what is the USB Kia challenge? In short, this is where people attempt to start a Kia just by connecting a USB cable.
The challenge emphasises how starting a car does not need a key. Why is it called a challenge? Apparently everything on social media these days is a “challenge”, especially on TikTok.
The past few months instructional videos demonstrating how to steal a car with only a USB charging cord have spread like wildfire on TikTok and YouTube, increasing the number of auto thefts worldwide.
The car thieves are shown in the videos targeting unlocked Kia and Hyundai vehicles, removing the under-column cowl near the steering wheel, and starting the stolen vehicles with a USB cable.
In many of the videos the thieves, also known as “Kia Boys,” can be seen driving the stolen vehicles and crashing or abandoning them.
The so called “challenge” has resulted in at least one fatality, and a multitude of crashes involving teenagers.
According to Milwaukee Police Department, thefts of Hyundai and Kia models make up 66 per cent of all vehicle thefts in Wisconsin, where the trend appears to have started.
These thefts are up 2500 per cent from the previous year. Other states are reporting Kia and Hyundai thefts accounting for a similarly disproportionate share of vehicle thefts, demonstrating the spread of the problem.
Kia models from 2011 to 2012 and Hyundai models from 2015 to 2021 are being targeted due to the “vulnerability” that allows them to be started once the steering column plastics are broken away.
A video compilation showing a group known as the “Kia Boys” was posted to TikTok in May, carelessly driving allegedly stolen cars. Shortly after, the method was revealed in an interview with one of the boys.
When questioned how they steal cars, the thieves explained that they were starting the vehicle with a USB charger cable.
Initially when you hear about this “challenge” using a USB cable, you might envisage a youth with a laptop and some technical skills hacking into the OBD diagnostic port. It’s not quite anything that clever, though.
Essentially the method is nothing more than using the stumpy end of a USB cable as a makeshift socket to turn the ignition and override the security after smashing the plastic surrounds from the steering column. Most videos showing the behaviour have been removed from the popular platform, however if you happen to stumble on one (we’re not going to link it here), the process is not exactly rocket science, but still very much a criminal exercise.
The “challenge” still requires the criminal to find a vehicle with an open door, or smash a window to gain access to the interior. The method does not circumvent an aftermarket immobiliser or alarm system, however the thieves can potentially avoid setting off the factory alarm by climbing in the window instead of opening the door.
Just four weeks after release of the “Kia Boys” YouTube documentary, charges were issued against a 17-year-old identified as one of the individuals seen in the video engaging in reckless driving.
Hyundai and Kia have stated they are aware of the issue, however are yet to offer any specific fixes.