Car Hacking and the Need for Vehicle Digital Security

by Admin on May 26, 2014

Cars are becoming more and more integrated with technology, with almost everything in a vehicle being run by a computer. Like with personal computers, sometimes third-party users can utilize the system in a way that was not intended. The same can happen in your vehicle, which is why manufacturers need to take precautions and increase digital security inside their vehicle’s computer system.

There are a few ways to get into a car’s system. The first, which is the most simple and least likely to be malicious, is through the built-in USB ports. This may not work on all vehicles; however it does prove successful on the Tesla Model S. Simply plug in a USB mouse or keyboard to allow you to interact with the console touch screen in a way which is similar to using a computer.

Another way to access the system of the Tesla Model S, is through an ethernet port hidden in the dashboard. This port is for a small network within the car containing 3 devices: the dashboard and navigation screen, the centre console, and a third device that is unknown to the public. As of the time this article was written, the most that has been done through this port is run Firefox on the vehicle. The consequences of this mean that it could be possible to jailbreak the Model S in order to use third party applications, somewhere in the future. Note this would also void the warranty, so it isn’t recommended.

The future isn’t that far off. In 2010, a team of researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California found that they could wirelessly hack into a vehicle using a variety of methods, including the Bluetooth connectivity of the vehicle for remote access to install a malicious app on the vehicle owners’ smartphone. Vehicle owners could be susceptible simply from using the Bluetooth connectivity, even the code on an audio CD in the car’s sound system could leave the vehicle owner at risk.

Last year a team, who received a research grant from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), looked at all the things that were possible once you had hacked into the vehicle. They were able to change the value displayed on both the fuel gauge and the speedometer. They were also able to honk the horn, jerk the steering wheel to either side, and even disable the cars brakes. The series of test were done in order to assist car companies in finding security flaws and amend these issues. A video of them can be found below:

As we move closer to the age of automated cars, and automation in general, digital security for vehicles has never been more important. It is with hope that manufacturers can continue to test and fix security issues, as digital security is now a matter of safety.

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