How Advanced Vehicle Technology Leads to Cyber Intrusion
When hackers and other cybercriminals compromise computers, banks, and web data, consumers purchase anti-virus and security software to safeguard their devices and information. As Steve Morgan reports for Forbes.com, worldwide spending on cybersecurity reached $75 billion in 2015.
Part of that spending focused on the cybersecurity market of protecting vehicles from hackers. As car manufacturers implement increasingly high-tech safety and convenience features and as the market increases the research and development of autonomous or self-driving vehicles, advancements in cybersecurity become even more critical.
Millions of 2015 Cars Recalled for Cyber Vulnerabilities
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains that newer vehicles have more and more high-tech features, and the technology of new, high-tech vehicles works due to a collection of electronics, sensors, and computing power. NHTSA officials further warn consumers about the risk of cyber intrusion:
“Vulnerabilities may exist within a vehicle’s wireless communication functions, within a mobile device – such as a cellular phone or tablet connected to the vehicle via USB, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi – or within a third-party device connected through a vehicle diagnostic port.”
Norton, one of the leading cyber security companies, states that newer vehicles have somewhere between 30-40 microprocessors, which are circuits that contain the functions of a central processing unit of a computer; the higher-tech cars can contain as many as 100 microprocessors.
In 2015, officials recalled 1.5 million vehicles due to cybersecurity vulnerabilities. To prove the dangers of vehicle hacking, researchers from several universities hacked cars and demonstrated what they could do once they had access, including:
- Vehicle disablement –researchers disabled car horns, causing them to honk out of control
- Tire pressure – hackers triggered warning lights relating to tire pressure
- Tracking – the researchers who triggered the warning lights could also track the vehicle’s whereabouts
- Disabled brakes and stopped the engine –researchers hacked into onboard computers, disabled the car’s brakes and turned off the engine remotely
Any of these possibilities could have disastrous results while cars are on the road, including deadly auto accidents and grievous bodily harm.
Driverless Cars Can Be Target of Hackers
In 2016, WIRED.com highlighted the concerns of vehicle hacking after two cybersecurity researchers, working with a WIRED reporter, remotely hacked a Jeep Cherokee the reporter was driving and disabled the vehicle. The 2015 hack involved disabling the Jeep by turning off the engine remotely while the reporter was driving in traffic. Since then, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek have been able to control even more systems via hacking such as causing a car to accelerate and turning the wheel 180 degrees.
The researchers say vehicles driven by humans are at danger of hacking, but it’s the driverless vehicles that raise concerns and pose the greatest security challenge due to all the technology involved in autonomous cars. Chris Miller told WIRED.com:
“Autonomous vehicles are at the apex of all the terrible things that can go wrong. Cars are already insecure, and you’re adding a bunch of sensors and computers that are controlling them…If a bad guy gets control of that, it’s going to be even worse.”
How Colorado Drivers Can Safeguard Against Vehicle Hacking
Vehicle software hacking does not pose a major threat at this time. However, that may change in the future, especially if hackers find a financial incentive to do so, the usual motive behind cyber attacks. Auto manufacturers bear most of the responsibility for security, but there are a few steps you can take to ensure your safety:
- Familiarize yourself with the wireless systems in your current car and any new car you intend to buy. Learn which systems can be operated remotely. This can be done by reviewing the owner’s manual.
- If your vehicle has a remote shutdown, make sure the seller has appropriate security measures in place to protect access to the system.
- Always deal with reputable sellers and repair shops. Dishonest repair shops and second-hand dealers can manipulate a vehicle’s computer systems to make it look like you need unnecessary repairs.