Cybersecurity for Connected Cars and Tips to Prevent Being Hacked

Having a high-tech vehicle that can do almost anything may seem like a dream come true, but what about the safety and security of owning a smart car that has access to all your personal information

Having a high-tech vehicle that can do almost anything may seem like a dream come true, but what about the safety and security of owning a smart car that has access to all your personal information? Since cars are basically computers on wheels, they share the same potential threat of being hacked as our laptops or phones do. However, this time, everything is connected, so hacking one possibly means hacking all. What once seemed like something we only see in movies has become a reality for many “connected” car owners. There were over 150 reported cases of cyber carjacking in 2019 alone. That number may not seem like a reason for concern, but when you consider that it’s a 94% increase from the year before, you can’t help but notice that vehicle cyber-hacks are on the rise and increasing at an alarming rate.

404 Errors Found?

Hackers find their way in by looking for a vulnerability in the car’s software coding that make up the electronic control units (ECU’S) which manage many of the car’s systems. The first car to have such embedded software was the 1977 General Motors Oldsmobile Toronado with only one ECU. Modern cars now have over 100 networked ECU’s consisting of over 100 million lines of code that monitor and control much of the vehicle. Experts say that even the best coding practices still produce at least one coding error per 10,000 lines of code. That means your brand-new smart car could potentially have 10,000 software bugs onboard.

Easier Than It Should Be

In 2020, cybersecurity researchers showed the world just how easy it was to hack into a Jeep Cherokee without ever coming in physical contact with the car. They were able to control the vehicle’s breaks, stirring, transmission, and even its entertainment system. As a result, Chrysler recalled 1.4 million cars in an attempt to fix the software bug. Since a single cyber-attack on a car can cost manufacturers up to $1 billion, as well as loss of reputation and customer trust, makers are doing their best to snuff out any errors through practices like simulated attacks.

Your Key is Their Key

So how exactly are the hackers finding their way in? The most popular method is attacking the car’s key fob (frequency operated button), which is a small electronic security device with built-in authentication protocols. Most connected cars use this remote keyless system that can lock or unlock the vehicle, turn on the engine, control the alarm, windows, and more. The key fob transmits encrypted radio frequency (RF) signals that are then decrypted by the car’s ECU and paired with saved data for authentication. Cybercriminals then create a counterfeit key by cloning the encrypted RF signals.

Maybe Better to Disconnect

Another way hackers can attack is through your smartphone and the apps you use to communicate with your car. If the app you download has any vulnerabilities, a hacker can easily find them and access any information you’ve shared or uploaded. Hackers have also been known to use the USB ports in a vehicle as a point of entry for an attack. This means they can potentially gain access to any and all personal information on your phone as well as control over your vehicle.

Better Safe Than Sorry

This may all seem scary, but there are ways to avoid and prevent an attack. To help minimize these risks, you should always keep your car’s systems updated and beware of any “third-party” software. Only install apps and tools approved by the car makers and limit access to your vehicle to only people you trust. Never share your car’s WIFI code or allow your network to be discovered when in public places and turn it off when it is not in use. Consider having an embedded firewall installed so that you can block any unauthorized communication with your vehicle as well.

By John Toroff

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