Modern car makers have been producing “smart cars” that use computers connected to the internet.
Electronic Control Units (ECUs) are on-board computers that use multiple networks and communication protocols – such as the Controller Area Network (CAN), Local Interconnect Network (LIN), and Media Oriented Systems Transport (MOST) – to communicate with each other. The presence of these components makes “smart cars” susceptible to remote car hacking by cybercriminals.
Learn about car hacking and how you can protect your car from it.
What is Car Hacking?
Car hacking is the exploitation and manipulation of vulnerabilities in a car’s electronic control unit to gain access into the car, gain control of some parts, or obtain user information.
This issue garnered a lot of attention in 2015 when security researchers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek using just a laptop from a house 10 miles away, remotely hacked a Jeep Cherokee driving on the streets of St. Louis.
The driver, a journalist named Andy Greenberg was in on the experiment but had no idea what to expect. By exploiting susceptibilities in Uconnect, the internet-connected system in Fiat Chrysler vehicles that allows owners to control the vehicle’s navigation and entertainment system, sync media, make phone calls, and remotely lock the car, Miller and Valasek took control of the vehicle’s air conditioning, windshield wipers, steering, and brakes.
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They were able to cause a brake failure that sent the Jeep crashing into a ditch. This incident caused Fiat Chrysler to issue a quick recall of 1.4 million vehicles in the first and only cybersecurity-related vehicle recall to date.
Is It Happening Already?
It has been predicted that by 2022, 125 million cars will be connected to the internet. The reality of this slaps harder when you think about how much chaos can be unleashed in the world if car hackers became mainstream.
From stealing cars by hacking keyless wireless fobs to tracking them by compromising GPS tracking software, car hackers are already making their moves.
According to an Israeli firm, Upstream, there were 176 electronic cyberattacks aimed at vehicles in 2019. That’s a 123% increase from the 78 attacks in 2018. Toyota also announced a breach in some of its vehicles that exposed the personal information of 3.1 million users of the brand in 2019.
Can Car Hacking Be Prevented?
While the idea of someone with a malicious intent remotely gaining access to your vehicle may seem scary, you’re not entirely powerless in preventing this from occurring.
Much of the power lies in the hands of car manufacturers to build models of cars with fewer vulnerabilities. However, as a car owner, you can protect your vehicle by following these highly recommended tips.
Safeguard Your Wireless Car Fobs
Most of the hacks that have occurred involved unauthorized persons gaining access into vehicles via wireless car fobs. Wireless car fobs allow you to unlock your car doors without needing a key.
If the fob is nearby, and you try the door handle of your car, the car sends a signal to the fob which then instructs the car door to open. When it is not nearby, the signal won’t be strong enough and the car handle won’t respond. But if a hacker knows where you keep your fob, he can trick your car into thinking it is nearby. The hacker would simply amplify the signal, then an accomplice close to the car would gain access. All they need to do is get in the range of the fob.
Hackers can surreptitiously stand close to car doors and manipulate the fob. That is because most people keep their fobs in easily predictable and accessible places. This is why it is advised that you keep your fob in your refrigerator. And you could also use a Faraday bag. It blocks the signal so criminals won’t be able to gain access to it.
Always Reset Password for Your GPS
Always change the password of your car’s GPS tracking system from the default password.
A hacker was reportedly able to switch off the engines of vehicles driving under 12mph. They only had to guess the usernames of the vehicle’s iTrack or ProTrack accounts and input the default password. This stresses the importance of using a secure password that cannot be guessed easily.
Update Your Car Software Regularly
Always update your car software as soon as you get an update. Older software usually have bugs and flaws that are often absent in the new one which reduces your car defences against hackers.
Put off the WiFi and Bluetooth of your car when it’s not in use. The car’s internet connection is often one of its biggest vulnerabilities.