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Can My Car Get Hacked? How to Prevent Car Hacking

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 car owners. Maybe your email account has been broken into or you know someone who's had their account hacked.

Let's face it, cybersecurity is a very real concern in the Internet age, and you should secure all of your technology-based accounts. But what about your car? Can your car get hacked into? Where is the entry point and does wireless connection leave you unsafe?

Miller and Valasek Remotely Hack into a Jeep Cherokee

Auto manufacturers have made great strides to design modern cars that are visually appealing and technologically advanced. But their cutting-edge features are exactly what makes these cars more vulnerable to hackers.

It was 2015 when security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek used a laptop to remotely take over a Jeep's entertainment system. The pair broke into the Jeep Cherokee's Uconnect, an internet-connected infotainment system. This portal allowed Miller and Valasek to get wireless control of the vehicle's dashboard functions.

The security researchers used a zero-day exploit that could target Jeep Cherokees and give an attacker control of a vehicle. This code is software that allows hackers to send commands through the Jeep Cherokee's infotainment system. It allows them to control the vehicle's transmission, functions and brakes.

The pair used them to break into the port of the diagnostics system of a vehicle belonging to a Wired.com reporter. As the journalist Andy Greenberg drove on a highway, Miller and Valasek used their laptop to remotely turn on the air conditioning system and blast the reporter with cold air. The hackers also turned on the windshield wipers. The men also disabled the reporter's brakes, transmission and switched off the accelerator. Additionally, the car's radio switched on because of the hackers.

As Miller and Valasek continued their attack, the Jeep slowed to a crawl and traffic piled up behind the reporter's vehicle. It was devastating for people to see these men use the car's software to disable the transmission on a highway, creating a veritable nightmare!

Fiat Chrysler Launches a Recall of the Jeep Cherokee

Miller and Valasek's research had a significant impact. After they demonstrated how easy it was for a malicious person to hack into their vehicle's systems, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles did a cybersecurity-related vehicle recall of 1.4 million Jeep Cherokee vehicles.

The company secured its Uconnect portal so it could eliminate any car hacking vulnerabilities in its critical systems. Fiat Chrysler engineers believed they had patched the vulnerability, but they were wrong.

Miller and Valasek hacked into the Jeep Cherokee again, this time from a port beneath the vehicle's dashboard. The only difference in methodology was that now they needed to be inside the vehicle to hack into it. However, once they did, they could accelerate, brake and control the steering wheel. Scary stuff.

What Kinds of Cars Can Get Hacked?

The fact of the matter is that any computerized vehicle can be hacked into with a computer or smartphone by a third party. This means that modern cars with all the new safety features are prone to car 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 the latest technology, which means the car has multiple portals that can be hacked.

This is the downside of having a computerized car, which was created to make life more convenient. Fortunately, for every problem, there's a fix.

Vehicle manufacturers are already aware of the fact that a car hacker can gain not only take control of a computerized vehicle remotely. They can also seize control of safety mechanisms like brakes and airbags. Carmakers include these safety features to prevent accidents from causing catastrophic injuries and death. 

The auto industry and software engineers are already addressing the problem. There is cyber-security software now available on the market (Centri, Arxan, Mocana, Aptiv, Deller and others).

Tech companies, along with auto manufacturers, have found ways to circumvent unlawful entry into semi-autonomous cars and other computerized vehicle systems.

Below are steps car owners with computerized automobiles can take to remain safe and prevent car hacking. Using these safety features and steps can prevent hackers from gaining access to your vehicle.

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Steps to Take to Prevent Your Car's Vehicle Systems from Getting Hacked

Here are seven tips that can reduce your chances of becoming a car hacking victim.

  • 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. 

  • Don't forget to download software updates. These maintain your car's security features and 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 auto manufacturer for updates, because they may have already fixed some vulnerabilities in an update.

  • If you have a fob keyless entry 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 keyless remote, which makes 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 connections are the easiest way to take control over a car.

  • Keep your car's Wi-Fi a secret (an absolute secret!)

  • Scan your USB drive and other devices before plugging them into your car. Just run a USB drive/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 get remote 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 to Gain Access to Your Automobile

Hackers don't need physical access to your vehicle to carry out cyber attacks. They only need a Uconnect and Sprint mobile device, a Wi-Fi hot spot and laptop to get the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), 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 an entertainment system, such as the volume on the radio. They can also adjust your car's air conditioner system, such as increasing cold air in your cabin. Others can even trigger windshield washer fluid controls in your vehicle.

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! And keep personally identifiable information safe from hackers! Make sure you have the right insurance regardless of how an accident may occur. To find the cheapest car insurance from the top insurers, just enter your zip code below to get free car insurance quotes.

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