Automotive hacking is on the rise. The number of cyberattacks into vehicle computer systems increased by a staggering 380% from 2021 to 2022, according to Upstream’s 2023 Global Automotive CyberSecurity Report. Don’t buckle up without taking precautions.
What Is Automotive Hacking?
The term “automotive hacking” refers to attempts by outsiders to use technology to invade the computerized systems of vehicles. Hackers may try to either control the vehicle itself or gain access to sensitive data that they exploit for illicit purposes. They might even attempt to blackmail the owner or auto manufacturer.
Modern vehicles are vulnerable because they contain hundreds of computer chips responsible for processing everything from steering controls to rear window defoggers. The vehicle’s “electronic control units” communicate with each other through multiple networks and communication protocols. Various networks — such as the Controller Area Network facilitating communication affecting braking controls — interact with each other. Other systems accommodate Bluetooth and other wireless device connections.
The integration of these networks and systems, as well as the use of the accompanying software, can put vehicles at risk. The same advanced technology that allows you to talk on the phone hands-free while you’re driving can be exploited by hackers to gain access to your vehicle.
Sometimes hackers target manufacturers rather than individual owners. For example, Toyota recently revealed that a data breach of its system exposed the vehicle location information of more than 2.1 million customers between November 6, 2013, and April 17, 2023.
How Do These Breaches Happen?
There are three primary methods that hackers use to launch their attacks:
1. Physical access to hardware. A hacker can physically manipulate a vehicle’s technology to circumvent security measures. For instance, they can manually install devices to control vehicle systems from remote locations. Drivers might think they’re in control, but the hacker is really driving the vehicle using remote controls.
2. Software invasion. By locating entry points in software, hackers can seize control of the vehicle systems. Once they take over, they can steal data and use it illegally or even manipulate vehicles from remote locations.
3. Altered lines of communication. In layman’s terms, the various systems in your vehicle communicate with one another or the internet. Hackers can locate valuable information by intercepting or interrupting these communications.
In one popular variation of this scheme, hackers clone the signal coming from a key fob and use the frequency to enter the vehicle. In another, a hacker hijacks a vehicle by using a nearby Wi-Fi hot spot or Bluetooth to connect to a vehicle’s systems.
How Can You Protect Your Vehicle from Cyberattacks?
There’s no 100% foolproof method preventing automotive hacking. But you can take the following steps to shore up your defenses:
Install an anti-malware system. This software is specifically geared to preventing outsiders from taking over control of your vehicle.
Stay current with software updates. It’s easier for hackers to invade your vehicle’s computer systems if the software is outdated. Follow manufacturer guidelines to automate the installation process for your vehicle.
Add a VPN. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) protects your vehicle’s electronic components from malware. It allows you to connect to the internet without any major cybersecurity concerns.
Monitor use of wireless technology. If you track your vehicle remotely with wireless technology, you’re exposing it to potential hacks because those systems operate online.
Exercise caution using key fobs. These devices open the door for automotive hackers. Consider using the metal key inside the fob whenever possible or locking the fob in a box that blocks electromagnetic fields.
Be wary of GPS. Just as a vehicle’s Global Positioning System (GPS) can lead law enforcement to criminals, this system can be exploited by hackers for nefarious purposes.
Count on two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is commonly used to secure bank and investment accounts online. So why not use it to protect your vehicle? Similarly, encrypt key fob frequencies and secure logins over mobile apps and servers.
Not Your Grandfather’s Automobile
Today’s vehicles are equipped with technology that provides more versatility and functionality than ever before. But those benefits come with potential risks. The key is staying one step ahead of the hackers.