The Most Hackable Cars on the Road

August 19, 2015

Modern automobiles are becoming more reliant on technology for infotainment, operational, security, and safety features that make up the core functionality of the vehicle. These advances use much of the same technology that is used for our personal wireless devices, computers, software applications, and more. Today’s modern automobile uses between 20 and 70 computers, each with its own specialized use, that make up the overall functionality of the vehicle.

But just like your personal computers and data are at risk from hackers, so is your automobile. Most of the security for your automobile is controlled solely by the manufacturer. While automotive manufactures have been slow to publically admit to the dangers of their cars being hacked, recent high profile hacks have refocused their efforts to be more transparent on security features that protect vehicles from hackers. While digital forensics teams can assist after a security breach occurs, protecting your car from security threats isn’t something you can fully do by yourself. 

In fact, one car has already been recalled due to its potential hackability: the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. 1.4 million cars were voluntarily recalled in response to research finding that they were vulnerable. Other at-risk cars are the 2014 Infiniti Q50, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade, the 2014/2010 Toyota Prius, and the 2014 Ford Fusion.

On the other hand, cars considered the least hackable tend to have the fewest computerized and networked components, especially when in-vehicle networks can’t communicate with the physical components of the vehicles mentioned above. Some of the most secure cars on the market today include the 2014 Audi A8, the 2014 Dodge Viper, the 2014 Honda Accord, and the Tesla Model S. 

In general, a hacker can be anywhere from five to 100 meters away from the targeted car, depending on the hacking method; however, if hacking over Wi-Fi, the hacker could be anywhere with Internet access. The hack typically occurs in three stages. First, the hacker compromises one of the computer systems remotely. Next, the hacker sends messages to cyber-physical components, and then finally makes the destination engine control unit perform some desired action. Parts of your car that might be affected can include the ignition system, the brakes, door locks, and other systems of your car.

So, what can consumers do to help protect our vehicles from being hacked? 

1. Protect your automobile by keeping it locked and secure at all times and make sure you don’t leave infotainment and navigational user information accessible in your car, such as account information and/or passwords. 

2. Be aware of the wireless systems on your vehicle; wireless systems provide an entry point into the vehicle. 

3. Make sure your vehicle has the most recent software security updates; this should be done at a reputable dealer. 

4. Use only known reputable dealers to work on your car. The person working on your car has complete access to the car’s computerized system.

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