Can My Car Get Hacked? How to Prevent Car Hacking

Fran Majidi
July 24, 2019

You may have a well-founded reason to fear that your bank account or even your Facebook account may get hacked -- it’s happened to thousands of people. Maybe your email account has been broken into or you know someone who’s had their account hacked. Let’s face it, cyber security is a very real concern in the age of the Internet and you should be wary of all your technology-based accounts. But what about your car? Can your car get hacked into? 

It was 2015 when researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek used a laptop to remotely take over a Jeep Cherokee. What the pair did was break into the Jeep’s Internet-connected infotainment system called Uconnect. This portal allowed them the ability to control the radio, the digital display in the Jeep, the air conditioning, the windshield wipers and wiper fluid, the transmission and the brakes. It was devastating for people to hear and see it when these men disabled the transmission on a highway, creating a veritable nightmare!

Immediately after this horrific display of how a malicious person can very well hack into their cars, Fiat Chrysler did a massive recall of 1.4 million Jeeps and secured the car’s Uconnect portal so it couldn’t be hacked. After they sighed in relief, Miller and Valasek hacked into the Jeep Cherokee again, the second time from a port beneath the dashboard of the vehicle. The only difference in methodology was that now they needed to get inside the vehicle to hack into it. However, once hey did, they could accelerate, break and control the steering wheel. Scary stuff.

What Kinds of Cars Can Get Hacked?

The fact of the matter is that any car that is computerized can be hacked into with a computer or smartphone by a third party. This means that vehicles with all the new safety features are prone to hacking. Semi-autonomous or self-driving cars are the most vulnerable to car hacking. Even worse news is that most cars on the market today come equipped with latest technology, which means the car has multiple portals that can be hacked. This is the downside of having a computerized vehicle, which was created to make life more convenient.

Fortunately, for every problem, there’s a fix and car makers are already aware of the fact that a car hacker can gain not only take control of a computerized car but they can also take control of safety mechanisms like brakes and airbags, which can prevent an accident from becoming catastrophic. 

Software engineers are already on the problem and there is cyber-security software available now on the market (Centri,Arxan, Mocana, Aptiv, Deller, and others). These and other software companies have found ways to circumvent unlawful entry into semi-autonomous cars and other computerized vehicles.

Below are steps everyone with a computerized car can take to remain safe and prevent car hacking.

Steps to Take to Prevent Your Car from Getting Hacked

  • Always check in on your car’s status by Googling your car maker and checking their website to see if there are any recalls or news pieces written about your car. 
  • Update your car’s software as often as possible will protect you from hackers. Outdated software may contain bugs hackers can use to gain access to your car. Again, check with your manufacturer for updates, because they may have already fixed some vulnerabilities in an update.
  • If you have a fob keyless remote, store it somewhere safe, like in an RFID key fob purse or protector (some people say store it in the fridge if you don’t have a protector ). People can break into your car by using the signal from your fob and making the car think you’re present and trying to access your car. If you’re home and sleeping and your car key-fob is nearby, it’s not very hard to gain access to your car.
  • When you’re not driving, unplug or remove tracking devices from the insurance company and otherwise.
  • Turn off your car’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use. Wireless connection is the easiest way to take control over a car.
  • Keep your car’s Wi-Fi a secret (an absolute secret!)
  • Scan US devices/drives before plugging them into your car. Just run a USB/DVD scan to see if your drive is safe to use before using it in the car.

What Should I Do if My Car’s Been Hacked?

Remember that the chances of being driven off the road or having your car become disabled are very slim, no matter how frightening youtube videos of car hacking can be. For one, the hackers would have to be in and remain in close proximity to seize control of your vehicle. 

Chances are that your car has not been hacked into, but if you feel pretty certain that it has, the following are some steps you can take right away. 

  1. Change your Wi-Fi password.
  2. Check for software updates and vehicle recalls on the manufacturer’s website.
  3. Call your auto manufacturer or dealer.
  4. Alert the FBI and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Frightening Things a Car Hacker Can Do

All a hacker needs is Uconnect and Sprint mobile device, a Wi-Fi hot spot and laptop to get the car’s VIN number, make, model, IP address and GPS coordinates. 

The ability to track a victim with GPS coordinates is the most frightening idea for many. As invasive as it sounds, however, it’s not easy to pinpoint a vehicle while doing this, but it is possible.

It’s also possible to tamper with the volume on the radio, the car’s air conditioner and even your windshield washer fluid. Most terrifyingly, a hacker can also increase and decrease your speed against your will. Worst of all, they can stop the engine completely. Also, Images can be sent to the in-car digital display, which can be very distracting and invasive.

The good news is that hackers seem only able to seize control of steering if you’re traveling in reverse and in low speeds. So, be careful backing out in your state-of-the-art and technologically savvy new car!

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