Hyundai, Kia Release Software Updates to Stop Viral TikTok Car Thefts

Hyundai and its subsidiary, Kia, are offering a free anti-theft security update to millions of cars after the viral “Kia Challenge” on TikTok led to thousands of their cars being stolen from customers across the U.S. (via The Verge).

The Kia Challenge was pioneered by a group of thieves known as “the Kia Boyz,” who would post TikTok videos demonstrating how anyone could force their way into a Hyundai or Kia vehicle using just a USB cable.

This is possible because several Hyundai and Kia models from 2015-2019 do not have electronic immobilizers, a common feature found on most vehicles from that era that prevents thieves from bypassing the ignition after gaining entry into the vehicle.

While the exact number of vehicles stolen as a result of the Kia Challenge is unknown, it is well into the thousands. In Milwaukee alone, 469 Kia vehicles and 426 Hyundais were stolen in 2020, according to police reports. Per NPR, these numbers grew significantly to 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hundais the following year.

Hyundai and Kia are now offering a free anti-theft software update to the “theft alarm software logic” on affected cars. About 8.3 million vehicles — 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias — are eligible for the update.

The software upgrade modifies certain vehicle control modules on Hyundai vehicles equipped with standard “turn-key-to-start” ignition systems. As a result, locking the doors with the key fob will set the factory alarm and activate an “ignition kill” feature so the vehicles cannot be started when subjected to the popularized theft mode. Customers must use the key fob to unlock their vehicles to deactivate the “ignition kill” feature.

Following the update, users will also be required to insert a key in the ignition switch to turn affected vehicles on. What’s more, the update also increases the length of the car’s alarm from 30 seconds to one minute.

As of this week, owners of 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles are eligible for the free update. Hyundai and Kia will start making the update available for other models, including Kona, Palisade, and Santa Fe, starting in June 2023.

Unfortunately, the update won’t be rolled out over the air. Instead, Kia is instructing those with affected vehicles to take their cars to a local dealership, where it will take less than one hour for service personnel to install the upgrades.

To find out when your Hyundai or Kia vehicle will be eligible for the upgrade, click here and input your vehicle’s VIN number.

Kia was once considered to be a frontrunner in the race to partner with Apple on the long-fabled Apple Car, but those discussions have since broken down and the Apple Car is still years away.