Protecting Your Connected Car from Cyber Threats

Protecting Your Connected Car from Cyber Threats

Protecting Your Connected Car from Cyber Threats

In an age where technology and connectivity reign supreme, even our automobiles have become targets for cybercriminals. The concept of connected cars, once celebrated for its convenience and innovation, has now given rise to a new threat – automotive cyber attacks. As vehicles become more interconnected and reliant on digital systems, they become increasingly vulnerable to hacking and other malicious activities. In this comprehensive blog post, we will delve deep into the world of automotive cyber threats, exploring the reasons behind their rise, key vulnerabilities, best practices for automakers, and tips for drivers to fortify their car’s cybersecurity.

How Connected Cars Became Vulnerable to Hacking


Connected cars, often referred to as smart cars, are equipped with advanced technologies and communication systems that enable them to connect to the internet and other devices. These features have transformed our driving experience, offering benefits like real-time navigation, remote diagnostics, and improved safety. However, the very connectivity that enhances our driving experience has also made vehicles susceptible to cyberattacks.

The Growing Threat of Automotive Cyber Attacks


The increasing adoption of connected cars has created an attractive target for cybercriminals. These attacks can lead to severe consequences, including theft, safety hazards, and even life-threatening situations. Here, we delve into the factors contributing to the rise of automotive cyber threats:

  • Proliferation of IoT Devices: The Internet of Things (IoT) has allowed for the integration of numerous devices into the car’s ecosystem. While this enhances functionality, it also opens doors for potential vulnerabilities.
  • Inadequate Security Measures: Automakers have been slow to prioritize cybersecurity, often focusing more on features and aesthetics. This negligence leaves vehicles vulnerable to exploitation.
  • Growing Complexity: Modern vehicles are equipped with complex software and hardware systems, increasing the attack surface for cybercriminals. These systems are susceptible to software vulnerabilities and require continuous updates.
  • Connected Infrastructure: Connected cars rely on various infrastructure components, such as GPS, cellular networks, and cloud services. Weak links in any of these components can be exploited.

Top Automotive Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities to Watch Out For

Understanding the specific vulnerabilities that can be exploited in connected cars is crucial to developing effective countermeasures. Here are some of the most critical vulnerabilities that automakers and drivers should be aware of:

Cybercriminals can gain unauthorized access to a car's systems remotely

  • Remote Hacking: Cybercriminals can gain unauthorized access to a car’s systems remotely, potentially taking control of critical functions like steering and braking.
  • Software Vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities in the car’s software can be exploited to manipulate its operation. These vulnerabilities can be introduced during development or through third-party applications.
  • OBD-II Ports: The On-Board Diagnostics II (OBD-II) port, a common feature in modern cars, can be used to gain access to a vehicle’s systems. Thieves have used this port to steal cars and compromise security.
  • Infotainment Systems: The infotainment system often serves as a gateway to the vehicle’s internal network. Vulnerabilities in this system can be exploited to access sensitive data or control vehicle functions.
  • Inadequate Encryption: Weak or nonexistent encryption can expose communication between the car and external servers or devices, making it easier for attackers to intercept data or insert malicious commands.

Best Practices for Automakers to Improve Vehicle Cybersecurity

Automakers play a pivotal role in addressing the threat of automotive cyber attacks. To safeguard their customers and protect their brand reputation, they should adopt best practices for vehicle cybersecurity:

Best practices for vehicle cybersecurity

  1. Security by Design: This involves integrating cybersecurity measures into the vehicle’s design and development process from the outset. It includes secure coding practices and regular security audits to identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities early in the development cycle.
  2. Regular Updates: Just like computers and smartphones, connected cars require timely software updates to address security vulnerabilities. Vehicle manufacturers should provide these updates regularly, and car owners should be encouraged to install them promptly to ensure their vehicle’s software remains secure against new threats.
  3. Authentication and Authorization: Strong authentication and authorization mechanisms are essential. These systems ensure that only authorized users can access the vehicle’s systems and data, thereby preventing unauthorized use and potential cyberattacks.
  4. Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS): IDS are crucial for monitoring the vehicle’s network for suspicious activities. If an intrusion or an abnormal behavior is detected, the system can alert the driver or manufacturer, and in some cases, take automatic action to prevent or mitigate a cyberattack.
  5. Collaboration with Experts: Collaboration with cybersecurity experts and relevant organizations is vital. This partnership can help vehicle manufacturers stay informed about the latest cyber threats and the best practices for defending against them. It also opens the door to shared knowledge and resources, which can be crucial in developing more robust cybersecurity measures.

Tips for Drivers to Enhance Their Car’s Cybersecurity

Keep your car's software updated

While automakers bear a significant responsibility, vehicle owners can also take steps to enhance their car’s cybersecurity:

  • Regular Software Updates: Keep your car’s software, including infotainment and navigation systems, up-to-date to ensure it is protected against known vulnerabilities.
  • Secure Wi-Fi Connections: When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, use a virtual private network (VPN) to secure your data transmissions.
  • Password Management: Change default passwords and use strong, unique passwords for any connected devices or apps associated with your car.
  • Secure OBD-II Ports: If possible, secure or cover the OBD-II port to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Disable Unnecessary Features: Turn off unnecessary connectivity features when not in use to reduce the attack surface.
  • Cybersecurity Awareness: Stay informed about cybersecurity best practices and potential threats to your vehicle.

Notable Hacking Incidents and Cybersecurity Concerns in the Automotive Industry

The automotive industry has faced several notable hacking incidents and cybersecurity challenges, reflecting the growing risks associated with connected and autonomous vehicles.

The automotive industry has faced several notable hacking incidents

  1. Jeep Cherokee Hack (2015): Security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek demonstrated the ability to remotely hack into a Jeep Cherokee’s infotainment system, gaining control of critical functions like steering and brakes. This incident led to Fiat Chrysler recalling vehicles to address the security vulnerabilities. –Read here
  2. Tesla Key Fob Vulnerability (2018): Researchers at KU Leuven University in Belgium discovered a vulnerability in Tesla Model S keyless entry systems, allowing them to clone a key fob in seconds and potentially steal the car. –Read here
  3. Tesla Vehicle Remote Access (2021): Security researchers managed to remotely access a Tesla Model X’s infotainment system, enabling them to perform various functions including opening doors and enabling the “Ludicrous Mode” acceleration setting. Tesla subsequently addressed this vulnerability. –Read here
  4. Nissan Leaf Vulnerability (2016): Researchers found a vulnerability in the Nissan Leaf electric car that allowed them to control certain vehicle functions, including heating and air conditioning, while the vehicle was connected to the internet. –Read here
  5. General Motors (GM) OnStar Vulnerabilities (2019): Vulnerabilities were discovered in GM’s OnStar telematics system, which could have allowed unauthorized access to a vehicle’s functions. GM addressed these vulnerabilities through software updates. –Read here

The automotive industry is becoming a prime target for cybercriminals, as evidenced by a 225% increase in cyberattacks in the last three years​​. Cyberattacks often target the industry’s back-end servers and involve ransomware, data breaches, and control system attacks​​. In 2019, automotive cybersecurity incidents doubled, marking a 605% increase since 2016​​. Keyless entry systems are a common attack vector, with a report citing that 99% of brands using keyless systems are susceptible to hacking​​.

Manufacturers are responding to these threats by implementing new regulations and standards, adopting security by design, and enhancing in-vehicle and cloud-based cybersecurity solutions​​. However, the rise in the number of connected vehicles also increases the potential damage of each attack, highlighting the need for continued vigilance and innovation in automotive cybersecurity​​.

For further reading and more detailed information, you can explore the following sources:

  • The Driz Group provides an overview of the rise of automotive hacking and the efforts to secure vehicles.
  • AI EdgeLabs discusses the various types of cyberattacks in the automotive industry.
  • Help Net Security offers insights into the surge of automotive-related cybersecurity incidents.
  • Motor Illustrated highlights the common access points for automotive hacking and the vulnerabilities of keyless entry systems.
  • OTORIO provides an in-depth look at the threats to the automotive industry and the need for robust cybersecurity measures.