Transportation plays a vital role in our daily lives, getting us to work, school, and social activities. In many regions, cars have become the primary mode of transportation, shaping the urban landscape and influencing how we interact with our environment.
For many people, owning a car is not only a convenience but a necessity in navigating the modern world.
Over the years, cars have dramatically changed from being mostly mechanical to being controlled primarily by electronic devices. Every car made in the last ten to fifteen years has a computer on board, and vehicles now contain an average of 1,000 chips.
While this technological shift has created a much more enjoyable and convenient driving experience, it has also left users exposed to potential cyber criminals. Since their inception, automobiles have been a prime target for theft. With the advent of automotive hacking, the risk may be higher than ever.
This article will cover the automotive technologies most targeted by cyber criminals and how you can protect yourself.
Which Automotive Technologies Get Targeted by Cyber Criminals?
In many ways, cars are a perfect item to steal. They are hard to trace, easy to move, and can be stolen relatively quickly. While technology has partially solved these issues, the increasing number of car tech features has also opened doors for cyber criminals to get involved in the automotive space.
Here are the most targeted automotive technologies:
Bluetooth and onboard computers
In a recent hacking competition, Tesla volunteered their Model 3 car to be tested. The organizing team eventually gained access to internal code through the car’s Bluetooth connectivity. This would signal that virtually no vehicle is safe from cyber criminals since this is a relatively basic feature in almost all cars made in recent years.
Another potential threat is the existence of car malware that could be maliciously uploaded to your car to take control of the vehicle. Electric cars are particularly at risk of this since they require regular charging.
Since the charging stations are also largely electronic, they can be hijacked to inject malicious code into connected cars.
Smart key fobs and code entry
Previously reserved for luxury vehicles, this device is becoming the norm across all cars, replacing keys to execute all kinds of functions, from unlocking the vehicle to allowing ignition. These fobs use a particular radio frequency to communicate with the linked vehicle.
Since this is fairly advanced proprietary technology, automakers rarely have built-in security in key fobs since they are considered almost impossible to replicate. However, hackers have recently proved that they can replicate the correct frequencies to steal cars.
Another trend is cars unlocked by a 5 to seven-digit code located near the door handle. While these are potentially more secure than a key or a fob, they remain vulnerable to bad password hygiene and phishing attacks. The car can be stolen if the user reuses a code or uses an easily guessable one, like a loved one’s birthday.
In an effort to increase revenue, carmakers have begun locking certain luxury features like heated seats behind a paid monthly subscription. This might seem benign at first, but it means that these cars must be “always on” or at least have regular check-up connections to the internet.
This setup means there is a potential for jailbreak through this feature. Since some carmakers have not foreseen the possibility of cyber crime, some of these features aren’t as well protected as they should be.
Steer by wire
A relatively new technology, steer-by-wire is a new type of steering wheel being introduced in certain luxury vehicles. The main difference is that this type of steering wheel has no mechanical connection to the car.
This mechanism allows reduced movement and better handling, but it also means that the onboard computer fully controls the car’s steering. This has led experts to warn that there is a potential for hackers to take control of this type of steering system remotely.
Automotive Cyber Security Best Practices
Automotive cyber security, a field focused on protecting vehicles from digital threats, is still in its early stages, and many stakeholders, including car manufacturers, are continually learning. As a result, current best practices emphasize prevention, and this approach is expected to persist.
In contrast to a computer, a car that falls victim to hacking is often stolen, making its recovery highly challenging, if not impossible.
Regular software updates
Most car manufacturers are still learning how to protect best the technology they have implanted in their vehicles. That means most cars with software features will have regular updates and patches applied to the operating system. Always install them as soon as they come out to remain protected against new threats.
Secure data transfers
Many cars now require data transfers (electric cars when recharging) or allow for extra features via download (Tesla updates and alternate car horns).
Just like you do with your computer, remain highly vigilant when transferring data to your car. Make sure that the file you are transferring comes from a reliable source, and only do it over a network you know you can trust.
Cyber Security Awareness
Perhaps the most crucial step is to remain informed and aware of current cyber threats. If something about your car feels off, it is best to contact your dealership to report the issue and never risk driving a vehicle with an erratic onboard computer.
Is Your Car at Risk of A Hack?
For the time being, the risks of an automotive hack remain fairly low. The examples highlighted in this article require extremely high technical skills and have mostly been done once or been reported in very targeted areas.
Unlike your computer or phone, there is little you can do to protect yourself against automotive hacks further. There is no automotive antivirus, and the signs of a hacked vehicle can be difficult to notice, apart from glitches in the onboard computer.
Your best defense lies in thorough buying research, asking cyber security questions at the time of purchase, and seeking out car makers that have taken a strong stance regarding cyber security.
Cyber Security Hub: Access Exclusive Cyber Security Content
It’s essential to stay vigilant and informed about the ever-evolving landscape of automotive cyber security. To help you stay up-to-date and safeguard your vehicle from digital threats, visit our Cyber Security Hub, where you’ll find valuable resources, expert insights, and the latest information on best practices in automotive cyber security.