Gas Pump Hack

This is weird:

Police in Detroit are looking for two suspects who allegedly managed to hack a gas pump and steal over 600 gallons of gasoline, valued at about $1,800. The theft took place in the middle of the day and went on for about 90 minutes, with the gas station attendant unable to thwart the hackers.

The theft, reported by Fox 2 Detroit, took place at around 1pm local time on June 23 at a Marathon gas station located about 15 minutes from downtown Detroit. At least 10 cars are believed to have benefitted from the free-flowing gas pump, which still has police befuddled.

Here’s what is known about the supposed hack: Per Fox 2 Detroit, the thieves used some sort of remote device that allowed them to hijack the pump and take control away from the gas station employee. Police confirmed to the local publication that the device prevented the clerk from using the gas station’s system to shut off the individual pump.

Slashdot post.

Hard to know what’s true, but it seems like a good example of a hack against a cyber-physical system.

Posted on July 13, 2018 at 6:18 AM49 Comments


vidarlo July 13, 2018 6:59 AM

In Europe the pumps have a hard wired emergency stop, that will cut energy to the pump motor. Is this not the case in the USA? This would effectively stop the flow of fuel from the pumps…

Sid July 13, 2018 7:40 AM

If you read the actual articles, the gas station attendant did ultimately use an emergency stop THEN called the police. I’ve read 3 different reports of this incident though, and they raise more questions than answers.

Humdee July 13, 2018 9:10 AM

I am skeptical. I have seen this “hack” work in practice. What happens is that someone pulls up to the pump and pays at the pump with a credit card. When the person goes to place the nozzle back on the pump the nozzle don’t lock in place properly so to end the transaction. So the next person pulls up, sees what happened, and then fills up their card on another person’s dime. I find it difficult to believe that they got ten dishonorable people in a row but it is possible. The clerk might not have noticed or understood what happened–some of those big rigs fill up with more than 50 gallons at a time–and now is claiming that the station was hacked so as to excuse their own inattentiveness.

Occam’s Razor says that is the most likely scenario. If there were such a device as the article claims it would be in use everywhere. These things don’t stay secret and they aren’t used just one time.

Nick July 13, 2018 9:28 AM

This story simply cannot be true as it is being reported. First, there are emergency shutoffs to pumps. The clerk said he had to use an “emergency kit”, whatever that is. Why would he allow this to go on for an hour and a half during the middle of the day without calling police? 600 gallons divided by 10 vehicles is 60 gallons/car. That is three times more per vehicle than the average American car holds. There are no mentions of large or modified cars or containers. Detroit police have said they do not feel all 10 vehicles were involved. It does not take an hour and a half to fill 10 vehicles or dispense 600 gallons of gas. The two individuals that Detroit police are looking for do not look like high-tech cyber hacker types. Most likely they used a stolen device used for pump maintenance and it has more to do with common theft or insurance fraud than anything cyber related.

CallMeLateForSupper July 13, 2018 9:45 AM

Clerk tried to shut off the pump with “the screen” and “the system”. Those are “soft” controls. You really don’t want to rely on them when things go sideways.

He should have headed to a “positive” control – e.g. circuit breakers (usually in a back room) – as soon as he realized the electronics was hosed (no pun).

What if the problem were potentially life-threatening, e.g. a free-flowing nozzle lying the pavement? Spend 90 minutes wringing hands? Really?

Iggy July 13, 2018 11:16 AM

Weird is right. Fishy weird. As in I think the clerk in question was up to something and he made up a story he thought would fly. He’d’ve been better off using a more mundance lie, because this got press attention and we all know how that goes.

Iggy July 13, 2018 11:19 AM

@John, if you think Fox is bad, consider how much worse it’d’ve been from CNN. They’d blame it on climate change, Brexit and ICE. LOL

Steve July 13, 2018 4:44 PM

I’m a bit skeptical. 600 gallons divided by 10 cars is 60 gallons per car.

Even the largest SUV only has a 33.5 gallon tank (Lincoln Navigator L and Ford Expedition EL, which I assume are the same vehicle with different branding and options).

Most passenger cars in my experience run about 12 or 13 gallons.

Even if all the cars were totally dry, something’s off.

Either someone’s inflating the loss, there were more vehicles involved, or something else is fishy.

@Iggy: take it to Breitbart.

Hmm July 13, 2018 7:10 PM

“Occam’s Razor says that is the most likely scenario.”

Wrong. Occam’s Razor says you probably don’t have all the details to make a determination.

Mark July 13, 2018 7:56 PM

The reason the attendant didn’t use the emergency stop initially is that the emergency stop shuts down the entire station. It isn’t selective the way the soft controls are.

echo July 13, 2018 8:01 PM


That’s an interesting set of charts. The US tends to be more blatant and lacks impartiality regulations like the UK. That said UK media isn’t without its issues, and the impartiality rules are misused by scenarious such as by putting up one expert on a difficult subject against one extremist political crank and calling this balanced when it really is another form of skew to grab populist eyeballs or peddle an agenda by the editorial team, or maybe just casual irresponsibility.

There are studies kicking around on higher education standards and professional jobs being available to more people today, and how an absense of well described standards allows discrimination to fill the void. My sense is this and the breakdown of deferment and the expansion of the meida are rleated. My guess also is that as time goes by this skew will correct. This is often forgotten as what is happenign aroudn us and too us is so immediate but as surely as good times give way to bad times so bad times give way to good times. This is something to ponder and keep you feeling warm and cheery when the Zombie apocolypse hits!

Jon (fD) July 13, 2018 8:42 PM

@Humdee –

The pumps around here tend to have a maximum value allowed for one c’card transaction. Used to be $50, but with gas knocking around $4 a gallon they raised it to $75, and it may be higher now. Different stations also vary.

This can be a problem for me, because my F350 takes about 40 gallons of diesel when she’s on fumes, and at $3/gal. (California, amIrite?) that’s more like $120… I keep spare credit cards in my wallet, because they also don’t like it if you run the same card right over again. Finally, always get a receipt…

This may not apply to debit cards. That I hope to never find out, because I don’t use debit cards for anything. Also the operator can override it, if you come inside and do your transactions there.

So while some stations may allow unlimited fueling from one failed-to-complete transaction, it strikes me as quite unlikely. I prefer the ‘put the pump into some maintenance mode’ idea.

Jon (fD)

Otter July 13, 2018 10:41 PM

@ echo

I’m sure you are aware that the Saxons waited centuries for the “bad times give way to good times”. And the Beeb offers daily evidence that the “good times” are merely misdirection, and have yet to truly appear.

The Zombie Apocalypse has already hit.

Hmm July 13, 2018 11:18 PM


Generally I don’t go by any “single” study or chart, dataset. But this one is specifically representative.

Fox News is not a trustworthy source of info compared to anything, even a 50%-odds liar.

Iggy and adherents of an ideology that demands falsehood up front, well… Pity the fools.

That’s all we can do, as we read from multiple sources of verifiable information and contrast it.

They’re lost.

Fet July 14, 2018 5:35 AM

Long time ago a trick was used to get free gas by using a strong magnet to pull a relais in the open position. The relais was located on a circuit board close to the mechanical rotating numbers showing the amount and gallons.

All you had to do was place the magnet on a certain position close to the counting numbers and the hose could be activated as usual.

Criminals used this trick at rural stations that were closed at night. It lasted for quite some time.

Maybe something like this has been used and confused the hardware?

Tatütata July 14, 2018 11:44 AM

I was very sceptical of this item because of the dearth of details that were provided.

However, Brian Krebs described back in 2015 credit card skimmers, with the scammers gaining access to the innards of the fuel pumps. If one can modify the reader, then one might just as well gain control to the pump itself.

Krebs goes on to say:

Scarince said the fuel theft gangs use vans and trucks crudely modified and retrofitted with huge metal and/or plastic “bladders” capable of holding between 250 and 500 gallons of fuel.

“The fuel theft groups will drive a bladder truck from gas station to gas station, using counterfeit cards to fill up the bladder,” he said. “Then they’ll drive back to their compound and pump the fuel into a 4,000 or 5,000 [gallon] container truck.”

Pictures of modified vehicles are provided.

I suppose that such large tanks are somehow above the nozzle, so one would have to provide either a tight fit, or provide a pump within the vehicle itself.

An effing US-gallon is about 3.8 liters (I have only contempt for the continued use of customary or Imperial units), and the density of liquid carbonaceous fuels ranges from 0.71-0.77 (gasoline/petrol) to 0.83 (diesel).

The 600 gallon tank mentioned would therefore weight of the order 1700kg, or about the size of a largish vehicle like a SUV.

The use of (generally jammable or hackable) wireless links in the context of fuel dispensing is proposed in scores of patents.

aRegularReader July 14, 2018 2:09 PM

So I’m guessing the station attendant was truly a-gas’d at being made a fuel! #;-))

justinacolmena July 14, 2018 6:03 PM

No joke.

I was filling up with gas at the pump of a local grocery store -cum- mega-department store, and I noticed from my gas gauge that only about seven gallons had been dispensed at the pump when I had paid for ten gallons at the posted price of $2.999/gal. In other words, no change for $30.00.

After I complained, two cars started following me down the highway. It was somewhat icy and snowy, and I was not driving particularly fast. One of the cars passed me and slowed down just a little. The other car continued to follow straight behind me. Then both cars pulled out into the left lane at the same time: the one ahead to pass a large rock that just happened to be in the way in my lane, and the one behind to overtake me.

There was no time to stop nor avoid a collision: scarcely even to take my foot off the gas pedal to hit the brakes. So I crashed into a large rock right in my lane at about 55mph and pushed it about 300ft down the road, where the rock drifted off the road and caught on the shoulder and my truck flew up over the rock, and crashed into a riverbed with a few inches of running water at about 10:00pm October 30, 2018. It was dark, and just on the other side of the road was a large bear angry about all the commotion.

Conspiracy to commit murder, murder for hire, and attempted murder. Something valuable is being drilled or mined out of the earth.

justinacolmena July 14, 2018 6:13 PM

10:00pm October 30, 2018

Of course I meant 2017, not 2018.
The murderers harass me everywhere with “little” things like that.

Tatütata July 14, 2018 8:16 PM

10:00pm October 30, 2018

When will Bruce write something about the security implications of time travel?

Almost 35 years ago in South America something similar happened to me on a business trip. When our driver noticed that the tank was still empty and started making a fuss about the change, or the absence thereof, the attendant immediately summoned backup in the shape of a goon-like figure that looked like he was armed. We didn’t stick around long enough to find out if he actually was.

justinacolmena July 14, 2018 9:58 PM


When will Bruce write something about the security implications of time travel?

I had to set my computer to GMT or Zulu time, because Fedora was setting the hardware clock to the local time zone, which changes whenever it goes on or off daylight savings time, or if I travel to a different time zone.

Some obscure group of astrologers filed a lawsuit over the time zone data some years ago, until the Department of the Army stepped in and took jurisdiction, and the suit was dismissed by the court martial.

And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. [Daniel 7:25]

Now we have a very “real” problem. The “Real Donald Trump” @realDonaldTrump on Twitter and even a “Real Roman Catholic Church” @realrmncthchrch, which hasn’t “tweeted” yet, but you’ll sure know it when they do, and don’t forget Reality Winner, which comes off more like some porno addict’s women’s prison fantasy than something that “really” happened. I mean the guys are incredibly vulgar in prison, but they can’t bear it when a “girl” is crying on her sister’s pillow, and her cellmate is yelling, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

Sure, you make more money running a girl on the street than locking her up in prison, but the whole NSA Omertà thing (La Cosa Nostra) just isn’t maintaining its credibility for the general public anymore.

albert July 15, 2018 9:34 AM

Re: Fox News (Detroit)

You guys need to calm down. It’s a freakin’ -local- news story. Do any of you think that the big boys at Fox give a RSA about Detroit local news?

Iggys comment was -hyperbole-. Look it up.

. .. . .. — ….

Security Sam July 15, 2018 10:12 AM

The clerk was taken off guard
So, he called the authorities
But, it was during lunchtime
And they had higher priorities.

Weather July 15, 2018 10:47 AM

They probably used the petrol stations free WiFi to access the local network and mitm the pumps and cashier machines to change 60 litres to 20liters on all 10 pumps.

Peter July 15, 2018 1:07 PM

Obviously, KGB are honning their hacking-skills prior to the mid-terms.. Putin is hacking your SaudiAramco gas-dispensers !!

The Truth July 15, 2018 1:25 PM

90 minutes, huh.


And in other “news”; a man walked into a Safeway grocery store yesterday and walked out with nearly $650 in groceries. Apparently, he spent nearly 45 minutes taking several trips back and forth to his vehicle to load the groceries and there was absolutely nothing that could be done about it!

Douglas L Coulter July 15, 2018 3:04 PM

Not knowing more than anyone else – read the initial report elsewhere, I’d point out that in every big city I’ve been to of late (== high violent crime area) – the clerk in these stations is locked into a tiny room with bullet-resistant glass, and a little push-pull drawer for money and cigarettes to go back and forth, and just about nothing else, with strict orders to NEVER open the door to outside – for what should be obvious reasons. It’s very nearly the worst job on earth that is a job at all.

If his soft control for that pump (if indeed the cheapskates who build these stations made it by-pump at all) didn’t work, pulling the emergency stop – which kills all other revenue and as often as not sets off an alarm with the police/fire dept, is a fairly desperate move for your average min wage worker to take. Now your only door has an angry crowd at it on top of the usual dangers of the location? (and the cops are going to find your side-biz selling crack too?)

Just saying, I have no info that this was the case here other than having seen it a lot in far less war-zone areas than any part of Detroit.

Hmm July 15, 2018 5:19 PM

$650 at Safeway is definitely not 45 minutes worth of labor to move back and forth in a cart…
That’s like 2 carts.

Hmm July 15, 2018 5:29 PM


“Iggys comment was -hyperbole-.”

Hyperbole and lies are not mutually exclusive concepts. He lied. Call it poetry if you like. W/e.

justinacolmena July 15, 2018 7:53 PM

@albert • July 15, 2018 9:34 AM

Re: Fox News (Detroit)

You guys need to calm down. It’s a freakin’ -local- news story. Do any of you think that the big boys at Fox give a RSA about Detroit local news?

Iggys comment was -hyperbole-. Look it up.

-Local-, is it? Getting to be quite a mob siphoning and stealing all that gas, isn’t there? Free for the taking, or what? Sort of like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, except this is Detroit, where they make the cars that burn all that gas, or they could make them if they weren’t trying to program and operate all that heavy machinery so high on drugs and their accident and fatality rates at the factory weren’t so freakin’ high as a result.

The local white militia mob there was shooting at me, too. Bullet missed my head by about a foot, and then some Air Force and Army personnel showed up wondering what all the shooting was about, and then the Marines came, and the cops threw us all in jail, let me out after 40 days without explanation and of course without my car. Not a snowball’s chance in hell the cops were going to put that -local- militia mob in jail, no matter who they were shooting at.

Bob July 16, 2018 3:25 AM

My local petrol station had a problem with one of the pumps once, so they put a traffic cone in front of it.

me July 16, 2018 6:17 AM

Here is my “anti hack”: a piece of paper attached to the pump saying “broken, do not use”

justinacolmena July 16, 2018 8:58 AM

-local- militia mob [Detroit]

They call themselves the “Flying Wheels” now that I recall. The Marines were accused of “associating” or “fraternizing” with them even though they were the ones shooting at the Marines, while the Marines were not allowed to shoot back. I could not have been “the” target or even a very significant one, although they were shooting at me with intent to kill. It was a big fight. Downtown red-light district hostile para-military death trap.

The thing is, any article of military clothing or uniform or especially anything associated with the U.S. military is considered gang-related apparel by local cops, and for the Marine Corps, apparently just being in town is considered to be “associating” with the “Flying Wheels” in Detroit, not being “cool” enough to actually “be” members of the “Flying Wheels,” which is considered just cause in a court of law for felony arrest warrant.

albert July 16, 2018 9:38 AM

“…He lied.”

Stop trolling. You demean yourself, and the often intelligent comments you make.

. .. . .. — ….

Adrian July 16, 2018 1:03 PM

@vidarlo: Yes, U.S. gas stations have emergency stop buttons, but I believe those will cut off all of the pumps at the station. If it would have been possible to take just the affected pump offline, then the station could have remained open (and making money) from the other pumps.

I assume resetting the system after an emergency stop requires somebody with a key, and I doubt the regular attendant has that key. So hitting the emergency stop effectively puts you completely out of business for a while.

When the attendant failed to disable the affected pump, I would assume that simply putting an “out-of-order” sign on that one pump would have been effective. On most pumps I’ve seen, you can put a padlock on the latch that holds the nozzle to further ensure that nobody can physically pump gas.

Clive Robinson July 17, 2018 12:34 AM

@ Albert, iggy,

I’ve looked at iggy’s comment several times, and not only is it a joke, it’s the sort of lighthearted comment you’ld expect these days.

The “editorial positions” and puff piece of the various MSM are such these days making a refrence to them is almost as obligatory as the fingers in the air “double quote” or exaggerated wink with the “a real winner” comment when some one has goofed up for the umpteenth time again… It feels like hardly a month goes by here without some one making comment on the MSM or “talking heads”.

I’d call it “healthy realism” and likewise “healthy skepticism”, but then I’m old grizzled and thus most likey jaded as well 😉

Moderator July 17, 2018 3:05 PM

@Hmm, I’ve unpublished your last two comments; they’re off-topic, shouty and needlessly acrimonious.

Hmm July 17, 2018 3:17 PM

So the above comment is “on-topic” ?

It’s not the same exact topic? Or did the link I added make it off topic?

But I’ll refrain from CAPS for emphasis.

Hmm July 17, 2018 3:26 PM

The refrain above is “protected”, that the media is “always ginning up” all of this?
That’s kind of disappointing on a forum of otherwise interesting-and-factual bits…

My underlying point is on that topic:

It’s not a joke to spread a propaganda message that “all the media is making this all up”
That’s a propaganda disinformation campaign and it’s being repeated “as if a joke.”
It’s not really a joke, and repeating it constantly doesn’t make it any “funnier” – does it?
*(It’s also inaccurate as hell, but that’s a debate for another day.)

I did add a link to Trump walking back his on-stage comments yesterday because I found it apt.

I also joked that I hadn’t laughed that hard since Nixon.

If this all is off topic, but jokes not? Can we throw bombs in the form of “jokes” for carte blanche?
I feel I’ve expressed the issues with this disinformation campaign and been rebuked for it…

Specifically because people like Clive and he’s defending this provably false position so constantly.
I feel like that side is being allowed to be presented constantly, but confronting it is not.
Is this attack on verifiable information not a current topic in the world of security?

Hmm July 20, 2018 1:29 AM

The topic is the gas pump hack, got it. How did I get so off track.

Anyhow I pay cash where I can because that’s more fun.

Roger Wolff July 23, 2018 2:24 AM

Why ten cars?

If you just want to steal a tank of free gas and have found a way to hack the system, this is the way to do it. Put the pump in “free gas” mode, let 1, 2 or 3 people drive up, take advantage of “you may fill your car now” and then YOU go in and fill your car. When the shit hits the fan and they find you, you say that just like the others, you didn’t notice that you weren’t being charged.

But if you want to make money using this scheme, you’d better fill up one of those bladders they talk about above. But from the surveillance video you’ll be the one and only that was there pumping gas for a very long time.

It looks more like a “schoolboy prank” to me than organized crime.

robotanks October 15, 2019 6:11 AM

The reason the attendant didn’t use the emergency stop initially is that the emergency stop shuts down the entire station. It isn’t selective the way the soft controls are.

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