It’s a simple fact: electric vehicles (EVs) are rapidly becoming a prominent fixture of everyday life. Global warming and climate issues are accelerating the adoption of this transportation method running on renewable energy. EVs also feature many technological innovations that make them attractive to buyers.
So popular, in fact, that Gartner estimates there will be 2 million global public EV chargers by the end of 2022 to support the growth of this category. It took decades for gas stations to become a common sight along roads, and EV charging stations are trying to replicate the same phenomenon in just a few years.
However, these chargers are often located in remote locations and have very little human supervision. According to researchers at Concordia University, the firmware and applications used in these devices aren’t always up to typical cyber security standards, leaving EV cars exposed to everything from malware to complete takeover by hackers.
This article will explore the various cracks in EV defenses and offer ideas on how you could protect yourself from these situations.
Why Are EVs At Risk?
Unlike regular cars, every single component of EVs is linked to a central computer tasked with ensuring every part of the car speaks to each other. While this has led to immense efficiency gains, it has also led these vehicles vulnerable to hacking.
Additionally, the chargers used to refuel these vehicles pose a problem since they need to connect to the car’s computer and communicate with it to manage charge level, voltage, and other metrics. This can leave EVs vulnerable to malware or maliciously modified chargers altered to damage cars by using the incorrect voltage, for example.
How Are EVs Being Hacked?
Some movies and TV series depict hacking into a car as a sensational act where a criminal can take over the car’s driving capabilities. Thankfully, this isn’t a reality or something you should fear. Whether fueled by electricity or gas, cars are powered by computers nowadays.
These computers aren’t usable in how you log on to your desktop, but most car functions, like unlocking the doors, changing driving modes, and navigation, are all coordinated by a central chip. This reality allows hackers to find vulnerabilities, but the impact is less dire than you think.
Perhaps the only valid point of vulnerability with EVs lies in the charger. Unlike gas stations, the current model is exclusively unattended self-service, which means that these charging stations end up in remote locations without any physical security apart from security cameras.
Anybody with a screwdriver and bad intentions can then attempt to hack into the computer operating the charger. Currently, the attacks launched against EV chargers have been relatively benign, like displaying pornographic material on the screens and asking for a ransom to remove it.
As of now, no one has managed to use the charger connection to hack into the car itself and cause damage. However, remaining vigilant when you charge your vehicle in public is still a good idea.
Like any other organization, companies like Tesla are susceptible to phishing and spoofing attacks. The current EV phishing attacks being launched don’t have taking control of your car as a goal. They’re taking advantage of the current craze for EVs to trick people into giving hackers their personal information.
Many companies currently have lengthy waiting lists for purchasing a car. This backlog has created an opportunity for scammers to send phishing emails to EV enthusiasts saying they were bumped up in the line, for example. Some attacks have gone as far as replicating automakers’ websites to make fake car reservations.
Most EVs have stopped relying on a physical key to access the vehicle, opting instead for apps and RFID chips to unlock the car. Many carmaker apps have sadly had vulnerabilities in that regard, and RFID chips can be relatively easy to clone if a hacker can get their hands on them.
Protecting Yourself from EV Hacks
Currently, the target of EV hacks isn’t consumers and drivers. Instead, the companies and the craze around EVs as a product are the targets of criminals to launch cyber attacks. As a consumer, there isn’t much you can do to protect yourself apart from typical phishing attempt protection.
Use strong passwords
With computers making their way into cars, passwords are gaining an even stronger foothold in our lives. They now protect anything from car entry to engine start, highlighting the need to use a strong password even further.
Similarly, make sure you pick a long number string without any personal numbers like birthdays if your car’s doors offer a number pad to replace your keys.
Be wary of public chargers
If you already own an EV, your vehicle’s onboard computer isn’t more or less vulnerable to attacks than modern gas-powered cars. Public chargers are currently the only real potential breaking point. However, at this time, they are not dangerous to the point where a hacker could take over your car.
Still, applying the same phishing check mentioned earlier to the public chargers you use is a good idea. Compromised chargers won’t always be used to display provocative content on the screens. It’s only a matter of time before someone hacks into them to mimic the company’s branding and steal credit card information.
Perform regular software updates
The best way to remain protected against cyber attacks on your EV is to trust the maker of your vehicle and do every software update they send out as soon as it is suggested. Automakers are taking these cyber threats very seriously and are continuously monitoring threats to come up with fixes.
Additionally, you should never execute 3rd party software of any kind on your car’s computer. It is simply too early in the lifespan of these products to trust anyone but the car’s original manufacturer.
EVs are the future
There are no two ways about it; most cars in the future will run on electricity, not gas. Governments worldwide have even mandated dates for the complete switch to EV sales only. The craze we are currently experiencing will only gain steam in the upcoming years.
There’s no cause for concern now, but as with any hot new technology, being vigilant is a good idea. EV companies are bolstering their defenses and adding robust firewalls to their vehicles to be ready for any eventual attack. In the meantime, as always, cyber security awareness is your best defense.
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