The FBI Wants Us All To Know Just How Risky Car Hacking Can Be

Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The potential for vehicle hacking has long been a thought in the technology era, but now the FBI, U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are all on board to warn us of just how dangerous the act can get—and how increasingly vulnerable our vehicles are.

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The warning comes as a public-service announcement sent out by the FBI on Thursday, which includes information most of us already know—as cars get more interconnected and have additional computerized systems, the job just gets easier for hackers. While the FBI said not all hacking is dangerous, the PSA warned that owners should “take appropriate steps to minimize risk.”

The warning comes after recent demonstrations by researchers showing ways in which cars can be hacked, which were surprisingly invasive. The release listed that at between 10 to 15 mph, hackers can accomplish disabling brakes, steering control and an engine shutdown on target vehicles. At any speed, hackers can control door locks, turn signals, tachometers, radios, HVACs and GPS systems.

All of those hacks reportedly occurred on a vehicle purchased directly from a dealer, unaltered and used for several months in a study. Hacking via the vehicle’s Wi-Fi had a limit of about 100 feet away, but a cellular connection allowed communication with the vehicle through an IP address.

Hacking hasn’t just been in the realm of demonstrations, though—Fiat Chrysler already had to make a recall that included 1.4 million cars. The recall stemmed from the hacking of a Jeep Cherokee and its UConnect system, which led to a whole mess of drama and fines.

Having potential dangers of vehicle hacking listed out like that and seeing real-world application is slightly unsettling for owners of vehicles with that type of connectivity, but the FBI did at least provide some things that owners can do to lessen their chances of falling victim to a hack. Here they are, in list form:

  • Keep vehicle software up to date, but be cautious of hackers sending fake notifications of vehicle updates containing malicious software.
  • Be careful when making unauthorized modifications to vehicle software, because the changes could just make the car more vulnerable to hackers.
  • Be aware and have discretion when connecting third-party devices to a vehicle.
  • Be aware of who has physical access to your vehicle (which you should probably do anyway).
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In addition to the preventative measures, the PSA asked for owners who suspect that they have been a victim of hacking to check for recalls or software updates as well as contact the manufacturer or dealer, the NHTSA and the FBI. All in all, it sounds like a whole lot of hassle for a little bit of connectivity.

Staff writer, Jalopnik

DISCUSSION

FINALLY. As a software engineering I’m more passionate about this than others, but the general public has 0 competence in online/technology security. Cars are woefully full of hazards because they were never designed to prevent malicious behaviors. (Just like the early stages of the Internet was a disaster because the founders never had a clue it would become what it is today) And now that EVERYTHING, throttle, brake, gears on automatics, even steering if you have autoparking, is connected to a computer, this means potential hackers can literally drive you off the road. now I will grant you that this will never happen to the vast majority of car owners, but this is something you MUST be aware of in this day in age. Be aware of what has access to your vehicle’s computer and have secure passwords for any wifi systems or any over the air connections. Car security is about to be a huge market for both manufacturers and malicious hackers as more and more Tesla-like cars come out. Read up, be informed, be secure.

Edit: not to mention that any potential hackers would have access to your location, home address, cell phone number and contacts, and even social media depending on your car’s features