Steal a car with just a USB cord and a TikTok account

24 January 2024

The TikTok Kia Challenge – not actually that challenging.

• The Kia Challenge on social media has seen a 1000% rise in thefts of particular vehicles since 2020.
• Who’s to blame? TikTok, the thieves, the manufacturers?
• TikTok has tried to remove challenge videos, but the trend has already spread to other platforms.

The so-called Kia Challenge has caused a huge increase in car theft. In 2021, a hack appeared on TikTok: how to hijack vulnerable Kias. More often than not, lifehack videos are fodder for ridicule or far-off aspiration; hot glue gun shoes or an automatic toothpaste dispenser.

But at the end of 2023, Morgan Goldwich found her Kia Optima had been stolen – by people following the trend. After filing a police report, she was amused to hear mention of the Kia Boys, perpetrators of a trend that involved stealing Kias and Hyundais, taking them for joy rides and dumping them.

Unlike most bigtime crime gangs, the Kia Boys post most of their illegal activity online. Goldwich was surprised that she had been a target, though: her car was old (2015) and scuffed, certainly not worth enough money to appeal to the average car thief.

Enter: the Kia Challenge, which surfaced in 2021, showing how to hijack vulnerable cars using just a USB cord.

The Kia Challenge – how it works

Kia models manufactured between 2011 to 2021, and Hyundais from between 2015 to 2021, lack electronic immobilizers. The security feature requires a unique chip in the key for the car to start. Without it, thieves can break a window, unscrew the steering column, plug a USB into the ignition and, hey presto, they’re the lucky new owner of the car.

TikTok did attempt to remove videos showing the simplicity of the process, but the trend had already spread. A recent report found that thefts of Kias and Hyundais have increased 1000% since 2020.

The stolen cars are generally taken for a spin and then dumped, so are likely to be found shortly after the theft, with some damage. Goldwich’s showed up in a parking lot a week after being stolen.

Although she was lucky to find her car, she owed a $1000 deductible for the damages. When she phoned her insurance company, however, they informed her that Kias and Hyundais were no longer being insured in her area. Why? Well, because they keep getting stolen!

In the UK, similar ‘crimetoks’ have caused mass involvement of teens in robberies. In this case, an organized robbery on Oxford Street was arranged via the app, with videos showing dates, times, and even dress codes for the event.

What’s interesting is the fact that, despite almost two decades of teens having access to social media, TikTok is the first platform ton which users appear to encourage widespread crime. That’s not to say that MySpace was never used to discuss a plan of attack – and we’ve all been reminded of the Facebook posts Gypsy-Rose Blanchard wrote after her mother’s murder.

Blame the manufacturers?

The TikTok Kia Challenge - because why not?

Car theft – the latest social media trend.

It’s easy to point fingers at social media, but the car manufacturers are also at fault. The failure to add immobilizers to their vehicles is the grounds of a lawsuit that will see Kia and Hyundai pay out millions of dollars to theft victims.

Both are issuing free software updates to affected owners to help curb the issue, and some law enforcement agencies provide free steering wheel locks, which could come in handy too. Hyundai owners can buy a personalized security kit at their local dealers.

So, the usual preventative measures plus some, seems to be the advice to car owners. We can’t wait to see the launch of the first car insurance company to offer TikTok Kia Challenge cover.

EDIT January 25: References to the Kia Challenge broadened to include social media as, although the hack first appeared on TikTok it wasn’t the only platform that the trend appeared on.