Imagine while driving at a hundred kilometers per hour along a busy highway, your car comes to an abrupt halt. The radio automatically switches to another station and the windshield wipers begin to swipe back and forth at speed. You sit totally helpless as hackers take charge of your car and your life. This may sound something straight out of a James Bond movie, but the chilling fact is that it is a hardcore reality that has already been played out by two hackers on Greenberg, a senior writer for Wired Magazine. Narrating his experience, Greenberg said, “Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in my Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system.” Next, the hackers cut the engine and despite all his effort, Greenberg couldn’t get his car to start.
All this is thanks to the widespread prevalence of complicated modern technology in all aspects of our lives, which has exposed us to a vast horizon of possibilities. Most of these possibilities help to make our life easier and even improve our quality of living, but they also leave us vulnerable. The scary fact is that we are completely alien to the danger of hackers controlling our cars, and only ever think of protecting our computers from malicious software attacks. But now with software playing a major part in controlling modern cars, this is a serious issue that demands attention, especially since our computers might be safe for the moment as hackers instead pay attention to breaking into cars!
How vulnerable is your car?
Modern cars are equipped with advanced computer hardware, software and electronic features like self-parking, automatic cruise control and steer-by-wire, which put them at risk of being hacked. Drivers now can link their cars with the Internet to use the GPS, streaming videos and music, and this popular feature is a gateway for hackers to take control of your car.
In Greenberg’s case, hackers accessed the car via Uconnect, an Internet-connected computer feature in hundreds of thousands of Fiat and Chrysler cars, SUVs and trucks. After getting access to the car, hackers were able to manipulate the locks, turn the engine off and on, and even disable the brakes. Shockingly, they can even take control of the steering wheel if the car is in reverse.
Sammy Kamkar, a well-known hacker, uses a gadget called RollJam to break into cars, disable their alarms and access garages. For RollJam to work, the device should be on or near the target vehicle. When the victim tries to access their car, the key fob will not respond on the first attempt, but will unlock the vehicle on the second attempt. But by this time, RollJam has cracked the code to your car, making your vehicle vulnerable for a future break-in. Kamkar brags that every garage and every car with a wireless key fob can be broken into using RollJam.
With car hacking in vogue, your personal and your vehicle’s security may seem bleak, but the good news is that car manufacturers are aware of this trend and are steadily increasing automobile security to thwart such attempts. You can also play a big part in protecting your car by not only taking care of its hardware but by also securing its software. Always take your car to a trustworthy mechanic and never plug any unknown or unscreened devices into your car’s USB or diagnostic ports. Also, be particularly careful about attaching aftermarket devices to your car’s computer systems, as aftermarket equipment is not rigorously tested and can leave you more vulnerable to hackers.