How to Protect Your Car From Hacking

Kia Niro

Serving Gainesville, Toccoa,
, and Canton, GA

How to Protect Your Car From Hacking

In all likelihood, the title of this article attracted you because you have never heard of car hacking. That’s something that can only be real in the movies, right? It definitely seems like something out of a movie, but it is for real. It’s not only real, but it’s also growing in popularity. This is definitely a growth industry, which is worrisome for those that are unaware of this threat.

When you realize that more and more semi-autonomous cars are taking to the road, it should be obvious that these car hackers are becoming an even greater threat. The threat will only grow as our cars become more and more autonomous.

There are over 100 microcomputers in today’s modern car. Many of those are able to connect to external sources via some sort of electronic communication. Most people will say “My car isn’t high-tech, so I don’t have anything to worry about” and then don’t give it another thought. Well those high-tech sources, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, aren’t the only vulnerabilities in your car.

One of the staples of our generations is being connected. Unfortunately, this sets up the environment that makes it easier for hackers to do what they do. What might seem odd to you is that many of the ways stop hackers from exploiting your car are pretty old school. Some of the following pieces of advice are even going to sound a bit off the wall, but the following top four tips are going to help you minimize your risk to automotive hacking and theft.

Don’t Use Your Key Fob

Many of you probably scoffed at the thought of never using your key fob. “You expect me to unlock the door with the key? Are we savages?” I hear you ask. Well, there is a good reason behind this. Some hackers have equipment that allows them to scan frequencies, like the frequencies given off by key fobs. Would-be thieves can intercept that little electronic signal that magically opens your trunk and unlocks your car. These thieves are able to do this in any number of ways, but there is one thing that is required for all of them. And that is for you to lock your doors with your keyless entry system. So, that being said, I think it’s ok to use it to unlock your doors, but I would not use it as the primary means of locking your car. If you don’t transmit the locking signal to your car, the thieves aren’t able to intercept it, preventing them from gaining access to your car. Not only does this prevent them from going through all of the stuff in your car, but it also keeps them from stealing your car, as many new cars come with a push button to start the car.

Good Old Steering Wheel Lock

The old school steering wheel lock is one of the best tools you can have in your car, as far as preventing theft goes. As we mentioned, there are people with the capabilities to hack their way into gaining access to your car. If they are smart enough to access your car through hacking, then they are probably smart enough to relocate your vehicle once they gain access to it. By utilizing this wheel lock, you add another layer of security to your car. Best yet, this can be a preventative measure. Once they begin looking at your car and make a plan to gain access to it or steal it if they see that steering wheel lock they are more likely to move on to another vehicle. They will always go for what is easiest and avoid unnecessary risk and are more likely to go after an easier score. We recommend going with something that is reliable and proven, such as “The Club Original 1000” or the “FJM High-Security Steering Wheel Lock.” Whatever you chose will benefit you by helping to prevent automotive theft.

Get a Car From Manufacturers That Acknowledge These Risks

There are companies out there, like General Motors and Tesla, that understand the risks posed by technically advanced vehicles. There are many benefits to getting one of these cars, like the fact that they have reduced emissions or are completely electric. That isn’t what we are discussing here, though. So how can purchasing a car from one of these companies benefit your security? Well, both of these companies understand the security risks that come from having your vehicle connected to outside sources. Because of this, these companies reward hackers, specifically “white-hat hackers” that show them the vulnerabilities that their vehicles have. So, basically, they get hackers to attempt to hack into their vehicles in order to figure out what needs to be done in order to safeguard you and your vehicle from malicious hackers. GM, for example, recently launched a “bug bounty” program in order to entice others to help them find even more flaws. Tesla has also been known to solve their issues with simple updates or patches that are downloaded directly to the car. You don’t even need to take the car in to get it updated once a flaw has been found.

Don’t Go for the Top-of-Line

Now, this is another one that many people will scoff at, and that is understandable. Everyone wants the best of the best. Because of that, this is likely to be a tip that is going to be ignored. If someone can afford the best, they will likely go for the best. However, I recommend against this unless you are going for a Cadillac or a Tesla. The reasoning behind this is that the more expensive cars will have more computers and thus, more connectivity features than any other car on the road. This means that those cars have more access points for hackers to exploit then an average car would have. I like to think of these access points as doors or windows that provide a “black hat” hacker access to your car’s brain, allowing them to modify and control your vehicle in a variety of ways. There are some security experts that actually drive 70s model vehicles and earlier. The reasoning is that they choose vehicles because they have no computers, hence no security risks from hackers. Most of these guys wouldn’t even dream of owning a car with USB ports and a mobile hotspot.

An Example of a Car Getting Hacked

Back in 2015 there were two security researchers, Charlie Miller, and Chris Valasek, took part in an experiment to show just how dangerous this type of hacking could be. These two were in a house ten miles away from their target, a Jeep Cherokee. This Jeep was driving through the streets of St. Louis. Now, keep in mind that the driver was in on the experiment, however, he was not told what to expect. The driver was on Interstate 64, which locals will know can be rather busy. They were able to kill his transmission, forcing the Jeep to stall.

The researchers were able to remotely control the radio, the air conditioning, windshield wipers and fluid, the digital display, the brakes, and even the transmission. Those last two are the most frightening to me. Being able to remotely control a car’s transmission and brakes should be enough to frighten anyone.

In a later hack, the same to researchers should the capabilities of being able to control the steering wheel, accelerate the car, and even force the car to slam on its brakes.

Knowing this, I have incorporated these tips into my daily life. My steering wheel lock is in the mail on its way to me now, and I never use my key fob to lock my door. Follow these tips to help you to stay safe from automotive hackers.