In 2015, two hackers famously took control over a Jeep Cherokee while it was driving full-speed down a busy Interstate 64 in St. Louis. The incident, which was actually a security audit run by field experts Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller, caused concerns in the tech and auto community.
But this wasn’t the first or the last time a connected car was hacked.
A non-profit organization Trifinite did the same back in 2005 using a less advanced hacking method to a less dangerous effect. Five years later, no less than 100 connected cars were hacked and disabled in Austin, Texas, by a single man. And in 2017, the Chinese took over Tesla Model X’s brakes.
So yes, car hacking is possible.
The good news is that all these security breaches were stunts organized by manufacturers. To find system flaws, the leading brands behind the connected car industry are paying rewards to hackers and conducting regular security audits. In reality, malicious car hacking is very rare.
Here’s how we can be sure, plus how to protect your car just in case.
Every Computer Can Be Hacked, Including Your Car
If you drive a connected car, you’re essentially driving a computer.
Not only does every connected vehicle come with a software system that can be vulnerable and compromised, but it is also connected to the internet and other internet-enabled devices such as your smartphone. All this poses a potential security risk for both your vehicle and yourself.
Let’s return to the famous Jeep Cherokee experiment to see why.
Valasek and Miller didn’t hack Fiat’s connected car only once, but twice. The first time, they gained control over its radio, digital display, AC, windshield wipers, wiper fluid, transmission, and brakes from a 10-mile distance. Can you imagine driving a car and losing control over its brakes?
The second time around – after Fiat had recalled 1,4 million vehicles and reportedly fixed the bug that made hacking possible in the first place – Valasek and Miller hacked the same Jeep Cherokee via a port under its dashboard. This time, they accessed its speed control and the steering wheel.
And that’s the problem with car hacking:
Even though there’s a low chance of something like this ever happening to you, the first time your car gets hacked may also be the last time for you. Unlike other types of hacking, this one presents an immediate and life-threatening danger. Threat or not, preventive measures are necessary.
How to Protect Your Smart Car From Getting Hacked
There’s a couple of things you can do about car hacking:
Put Your Trust in a Reliable Car Manufacturer
Don’t buy a connected car from a shady or irresponsible brand.
Reliable car manufacturers conduct regular security audits and send software patches as soon as they detect a potential system vulnerability. But trustworthy brands also stay in touch with their customers, informing them of all security threats and vehicle recalls.
Keep Your Car’s Software System Up to Date
If your car doesn’t receive automatic system update reminders from the manufacturer, you shouldn’t stay idle. Conduct short research online or simply contact the manufacturer. Outdated software systems are full of security flaws and gaps that need to be patched.
Otherwise, they make your car an easy target for hackers.
Keep Your Car’s Keyless Fob on a Safe Distance
While hacking a connected car via a port under its dashboard requires some expertise, hacking a car’s keyless fob is fairly easy. Every amateur can amplify a keyless fob’s reach in order to unlock, start, and steal a car. The only requirement here is that the fob is somewhere near.
So if you have one, keep it on a safe distance from your connected car.
Turn Off Your Car’s WiFi System and Bluetooth
Though hacking a car via its IP address isn’t as easy as hacking your everyday PC, a car’s WiFi is still a legitimate point of entry that hackers can learn to exploit. Keep it password-protected (use a strong, random combination of letters, symbols, and numbers) and turn it off when unused.
The same applies to your car’s Bluetooth.
Don’t Connect Unprotected Devices to Your Car
Any unprotected device can compromise the security of your car’s software.
If you’re using your smartphone to browse the internet while it’s connected to your car’s WiFi, make sure to have a no log VPN installed (such as this one). This will mask your phone’s IP address and make you invisible to hackers. You should also have anti-virus and a firewall on your phone.
Enjoy Your Drive Without Worrying About Hackers
Who wouldn’t want to drive a connected car?
Despite all these security concerns, the internet-enabled vehicles sport many amazing features. And the only thing you need to do to keep enjoying your drive without having to worry about hackers is to devote some time to security. Take a hint from your car and be smart about it.