In a world of limitless connectivity, connected cars are a logical step forward. Even if you’re not interested in owning a self-driving vehicle, you’ll hardly be able to resist the convenience that comes with communicating with your car, human-to-(intelligent) machine.
Currently, there are 12 million internet-enabled cars on the roads.
By 2020, this figure will grow to 200 million.
Owning a smart vehicle is no longer a matter of prestige. It’s rather a life-facilitating alternative to a manual approach. Internet-enabled cars plan your routes around traffic jams and road constructions, allow you to text without using your hands, and keep you safe during the storm.
And it’s all thanks to wireless data exchange. The same one that allows criminals to locate and access your phone, laptop, and smart fridge. Yes, your car can get hacked too, but there’s a way around it. Here’s what threats tech-savvy drivers are facing and how you can protect your smart car from getting hijacked, or worse.
“The Stakes Are So Much Higher”
In a conversation with Financial Times, co-founder of Karamba Security, an automotive cyber security company, talks about the particular peril of smart car hacks. “What is the biggest risk of hacking? In a data center, it is the loss of data. With the car, it is loss of life,” explains David Barzilai.
Though no case of life-threatening car hacking has been reported yet, the factuality of this scenario is disconcerting. By hacking a vehicle, a criminal could easily disable its dashboard, steering, and brakes to cause a crash. As Barzilai concludes, “The stakes are so much higher” with cars.
In fact, hackers did take over a vehicle’s controls before.
In 2015, Chrysler had to recall 1.4 million vehicles due to a small, but dangerous bug in their system which allowed two hackers – security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek – to wirelessly access a Jeep Cherokee, take over control, and keep driving it remotely online.
What Miller and Valasek did was well-intentioned and ultimately served a great purpose in prompting industry giants to start adding carefully built layers of security around their wireless car systems. Unfortunately, the real cybercriminals are, as always, one step ahead.
How Smart Car Hacking Happens
Every internet-enabled device is a potential entry point that cybercriminals can discover, access, and exploit. Hacking a smart car is no different from hacking a laptop without antivirus software or an online banking account with a strong password and two-factor authentication.
There are a couple of ways to hack a smart car, but two are most common:
- Attacking a vulnerable system that’s not protected and hasn’t been updated.
- Using a third-party device that’s been connected to smart car software.
That said, keeping your smart car protected entails the following:
1. Making Sure Your Car Software is Up-To-Date
IT security experts insist on systems being updated for a very good reason.
Software providers have been playing the game of wits with cybercriminals for decades now. As soon as they launch a new system, hackers start learning how to access it. And before they crack the code, software providers launch a defense mechanism to stop them from succeeding.
These defense mechanisms are system patches or updates that upgrade old and vulnerable system versions to new and uncrackable ones. But they are effective only for a short period of time, as it’s already been explained. And that is why they are always followed by newer versions.
The same as your PC or phone, smart car software will offer you a new update as soon as it is ready. The only thing you need to do is learn to distinguish fake software patches from official ones and click the button once you’re sure that you’re being offered an approved update.
2. Being Careful When Using Third-Party Devices
A smart car system allows you to connect different devices to your car.
This provides tons of different options for private, company, and fleet vehicles alike, but one device every driver will connect to internet-enabled car software is a smartphone. Not only can hackers use this to hack both the car and the phone, but they can also use it to spy on you.
The combined amount of data that your phone and your car collect is truly immense. By looking at this information, hackers can learn virtually everything about you and then sell that to the highest bidder. Both your offline and online whereabouts are in question here.
So be careful when connecting your phone to your smart car system, especially if you’re using the former for sensitive data transactions such as online payments and banking. Using a VPN is a good idea too (get it on Play Store), as this technology makes you untraceable by encrypting your data.
Internet-enabled devices, smart cars included, are here to make your life easier. And with some precautions, you can use them without having to worry about your safety. These security measures allow you to have a cake and eat it, too. Never assume you don’t need them.