Pen and paper, but please no cursive: Widespread cyberattack sends car dealers back to 20th century

Matt Levin Jun 21, 2024
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Fifteen thousand auto dealers across the U.S. and Canada were affected by the CDK Global hack. Service had not been restored as of Friday. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Pen and paper, but please no cursive: Widespread cyberattack sends car dealers back to 20th century

Matt Levin Jun 21, 2024
Heard on:
Fifteen thousand auto dealers across the U.S. and Canada were affected by the CDK Global hack. Service had not been restored as of Friday. Scott Olson/Getty Images
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You know how when the Wi-Fi goes out at home, you kind of just don’t know what to do with yourself? That happened this week to about 15,000 car dealerships in the United States and Canada.

A company called CDK Global was hit with a cyberattack that it still hasn’t recovered from. As it happens, CDK Global provides key software for those 15,000 dealers, handling things like sales, inventory and billing you for that air filter replacement.

Car dealers are a pretty big part of this economy, doing some $1.2 trillion in sales last year, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. In the wake of the CDK hack, there’s a new policy among the salespeople and mechanics at the Willis Automotive dealership in Des Moines, Iowa: no cursive.

“We have a lot of staff members that are younger than 30 that I’m not sure have seen cursive in their life. So we try not to go the cursive route just to make sure everybody understands what’s going on,” said Jason Willis, CEO of the dealership.

Since CDK went down Tuesday, he said, his whole staff has had to write everything down by hand  — credit applications, repair tickets, you name it. He has no idea where they found the old-school carbon copies they’re using.

“CDK is our sales communication. They communicate our parts, our parts inventory,” Willis said. “It’s really the backbone of our business from the technology side of it.”

CDK did not respond to an interview request.

Industry analyst Yossi Levi at the Car Dealership Guy said car sales may not be disrupted all that much. You can always arrange to buy a car the analog way and then drive it off the lot when a dealership returns to the 21st century.

Repairs, though, are a different matter.

“Service is a huge issue. Every dealer in the country is already at capacity, there’s a technician shortage. Every day that service is not producing, that is lost productivity,” he said.

And a win for repair shops and service centers outside dealerships.

The service department at Plaza Ford in Bel Air, Maryland, is running on a skeleton crew because of the CDK hack. But president Tom Walls isn’t worried about losing customers permanently.

“The customers that we’ve encountered, so far, fully understand. And I think it’s something that’s sort of accepted in today’s world because, you know, we’ve had medical institutions hacked, we’ve had banks hacked,” he said.                    

That’s partly why Walls doesn’t think his dealership will leave CDK and switch to another vendor. It would take months to do that anyway.

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