Under the Hood: The Modern Reality of Car Hacking

February 04, 2024 7 min read

Faraday bag for Key Fobs

In our digitally-driven world, the cars we drive have become more than just vehicles, they are sophisticated computers on wheels. With advancements in automotive technology, the concept of car hacking has emerged from the realm of science fiction into a tangible reality. Car hacking refers to the exploitation of vulnerabilities in a vehicle's electronic systems, often for unauthorized control or access. It's like something right out of a movie, except the villains are real, and they're after your ride!

The Growing Threat: A Look at the Statistics

Now, let's dive into the cold, hard numbers that paint a stark picture of the car-hacking landscape.

Between 2018 and 2019, the incidents of automotive hacking in the US surged by a significant 138%. This growth demonstrates that the threat of car hacking is not a minor concern, it's evolving rapidly (Motor Illustrated). It's like watching a wildfire spread, and it's getting closer to our digital doorstep.

In 2021, the frequency of cyberattacks on cars spiked by a staggering 225% compared to 2018. This sharp increase highlights the aggressive nature of hackers and their ability to exploit vulnerabilities in vehicles. Even more concerning, a substantial 85% of these attacks were carried out remotely (ISRAEL21c). The walls of technology protecting your vehicle may be thinner than you thought.

These statistics are sobering reminders that car hacking is a growing problem that requires our full attention. It's not a distant threat, it's happening right now, and it's on the rise.

Real-World Implications

Car hacking isn't just a theoretical risk. It has real-world consequences, ranging from personal data theft to the commandeering of vehicle functions. Here are some recent real-world examples that underscore this evolving threat:

  • Luxury Car Heist in London: In 2022, a criminal gang used highly advanced hacking equipment to steal 25 luxury cars in London in a single night. They exploited vulnerabilities in the vehicles' electronic systems, bypassing keyless entry security features, and disabling GPS trackers. The estimated value of the stolen cars exceeded £3 million, making it one of the most significant car heists in recent times (The Guardian).
  • Keyless Entry Thefts in Oakville, Canada: Oakville, a peaceful Canadian town, experienced a surge in vehicle thefts, primarily targeting cars equipped with keyless entry technology. Criminals used relay attacks to amplify the key fob's signal, allowing them to unlock and start the vehicles effortlessly. This spree of thefts left residents shocked and frustrated, with over 200 vehicles stolen in just a few months (CBC News).

Car Hacking: Unraveling the Technical Complexities

In an era where vehicles are as connected as our smartphones, understanding the nuances of car hacking is crucial. This section delves into the technicalities of how modern vehicles, equipped with sophisticated electronic systems, become susceptible to various forms of cyber-attacks. From wireless networks to key fobs, each component of a connected car can be a potential entry point for hackers. Let's explore these vulnerabilities and the innovative methods hackers are using to exploit them.

Car hacking exploits the complex electronic systems integral to modern vehicles. These systems, which control everything from navigation to engine performance, are often interconnected and communicate wirelessly. This interconnectedness, while enabling advanced features like remote start and GPS tracking, also opens up multiple avenues for hackers. Hackers can gain access through:

Exploiting Wireless Networks

Wireless networks in cars, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular connections, are prime targets for hackers. By infiltrating these networks, they can gain unauthorized access to a car's systems. Recent discoveries have uncovered vulnerabilities in the automotive APIs of multiple major manufacturers, affecting millions of vehicles. These flaws range from exposing user information to enabling remote code execution, underscoring the breadth of risks associated with wireless networks in cars

Keyless Entry Systems: A Double-Edged Sword

Keyless entry systems, designed for convenience, have become a focal point for modern car thieves. Utilizing techniques like relay theft, attackers boost the signal of a key fob with a wireless transmitter to unlock and start a car, even when the actual key is nowhere near the vehicle.

Telematics Systems: Gateway to Sensitive Data

Telematics systems, which monitor and transmit data on vehicle use and maintenance, are not immune to these threats. One notable example is the exploitation of Spireon's telematics solution, which could have allowed hackers to gain full administrative access to about 15.5 million vehicles, enabling them to issue arbitrary commands and even update device firmware.

Infotainment Systems: Data Theft Risks

Infotainment systems, which often connect to personal devices and accounts, are also at risk. Hackers can exploit these systems to access or modify customer records, track vehicle GPS locations in real-time, and even update vehicle status as "stolen"

Global API Vulnerabilities in Major Car Brands: Security vulnerabilities were discovered in the automotive APIs of 16 major car manufacturers, including Acura, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Genesis, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Rolls Royce, and Toyota. These bugs, affecting millions of vehicles, could be exploited to unlock, start, and track cars, impacting the privacy of car owners. Other flaws enabled access to customer records, internal dealer portals, and the ability to track vehicle GPS locations in real-time.

EV Charging Station Vulnerabilities: Researchers and hackers demonstrated that electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are susceptible to physical and remote manipulation. These vulnerabilities exposed users to fraud and ransomware attacks, and could also result in chargers being slowed down or stopped completely. This highlighted a new dimension of car hacking, extending to associated infrastructure.Upstream Auto's 2023 Global Automotive Cybersecurity Report

Innovative Hacking Techniques: The 'CAN Injection' Method

A new, creative method of car theft, known as "headlight CAN injection," has emerged. Thieves exploit a vehicle's CAN bus system, the network that allows ECUs (Electronic Control Units) throughout a modern vehicle to communicate. By accessing the CAN bus via the headlight module, they can impersonate the vehicle’s key fob, unlocking and starting the car remotely. While some defenses are possible, like software updates that recognize suspicious CAN bus activity, a long-term solution requires a comprehensive approach, including encryption and authentication codes for inter-ECU communication.

Wi-Fi-Equipped Drone Hacks

Yeah, we will admit this sounds like some movie plot but In a concerning demonstration, a Wi-Fi-equipped drone flying over a Tesla car was able to hack the car without interaction from anyone inside the car, showcasing the potential for unconventional methods of car hacking (Cybersecurity Ventures).

Why You Should Care

The implications of car hacking extend beyond unauthorized access and vehicle theft. It poses risks to personal safety, privacy, and data security. With cars increasingly becoming data repositories – storing everything from location history to personal contacts – the stakes are higher than ever. For the average car owner, it's crucial to be aware of these risks and the ways to mitigate them.

Advanced Security Measures and Practical Solutions

Ramping Up Cybersecurity in Vehicles

As car hacking becomes more sophisticated, automakers and cybersecurity experts are stepping up their game. Modern vehicles now incorporate advanced cybersecurity measures to protect against unauthorized access. This includes regular software updates, encryption of sensitive data, and multi-factor authentication protocols for vehicle systems. Automakers are also investing in research and development to stay ahead of hackers, understanding that cybersecurity is an ongoing battle.

Consumer-Driven Protection Strategies

While manufacturers do their part, consumers also play a crucial role in safeguarding their vehicles. This includes staying informed about the latest firmware updates provided by manufacturers, being cautious with third-party devices, and understanding the risks associated with connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.

  1. Be Cautious with Wireless and Remote Systems: Limit the use of wireless or remote systems in your vehicle, as they can be more vulnerable to hacking. This includes being careful with in-car Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and turning them off when not in use to prevent unauthorized access.
  2. Physical Security Measures: Consider using traditional physical security devices like steering wheel locks or diagnostic port locks. These can deter thieves and make it more challenging to steal a car quickly and quietly.
  3. Vehicle Tracking Devices: Installing a tracking device in your car can be a crucial tool in recovering a stolen vehicle. These devices allow your car to be traced via GPS, increasing the chances of law enforcement recovering it.
  4. Avoid Storing Sensitive Information: Do not program your home address into your car's GPS and avoid leaving passwords or sensitive information in your vehicle. This reduces the risk of personal data theft if your car is hacked or stolen.
  5. Secure Your Key Fob: Key fobs are a common target for relay attacks. Store your key fob in a metal box or a specially designed signal-blocking pouch when not in use. This is particularly important at night or when the car is parked in a vulnerable location.

SLNT Faraday Key Fob Bags: Your First Line of Defense

Amidst these growing threats, one practical solution stands out: SLNT Faraday key fob bags. These bags, designed to protect keyless entry systems, utilize signal-blocking Faraday technology to create a barrier against wireless signals. This means hackers cannot access the key fob signals to unlock or start your car remotely. SLNT offers two variations: a standard Faraday bag with a Silent Pocket® Faraday cage and snap closure, and a patented magnetic Faraday key fob bag for added convenience. Both versions are effective in blocking a wide range of signals, including Cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, RFID, NFC, and more, ensuring comprehensive protection against various types of relay attacks and unauthorized access (SLNT Key Fob Guards) (SLNT Patented Magnetic Faraday Key Fob Bag).

Why Choose SLNT Faraday Key Fob Bags

The SLNT Faraday key fob bags are not just about security, they are about peace of mind. In an age where car theft and hacking are becoming more sophisticated, these bags offer an easy and effective way to protect one of your most valuable assets. They are designed for everyday use, ensuring your car's security whether you’re at home, traveling, or on outdoor adventures.

Staying One Step Ahead of Car Hackers

Car hacking poses a significant threat in our increasingly connected world. As technology evolves, so do the methods of exploiting it. Staying informed and taking proactive steps, like using SLNT Faraday key fob bags, can make all the difference in safeguarding your vehicle. In the end, the key to automotive cybersecurity isn't just about technology, it's about awareness, vigilance, and adopting the right tools to protect what matters most.

Protect yourself today with SLNT buy now.