Can Hackers Steal Your Vehicle? The Answer is YES

by Ed Attanasio - Tue, Jan 13, 2015 8:50 AM

As technology gets more sophisticated, the crooks get smarter, and now they’ve figured out a way to commandeer your car. If you have a newer vehicle with all of the high-tech bells and whistles, you might be a potential victim for these dishonest and very high-tech car thieves. This new form of car stealing is called “car hacking”.

We've All Heard about Carjacking, but What Is Car Hacking?

Car hacking occurs when someone taps into your car’s wireless technology and takes control of your vehicle. As manufacturers and dashboard makers rush to include wireless features into their new cars, car hacking becomes more prevalent. Even the development of wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communication provides another gateway for hackers to gain access to automobiles. Researchers from the University of South Carolina were able to hack into tire pressure monitoring systems by using readily available equipment, and free software. Similarly, researchers at the University of Washington recently figured out a way to disable brakes and engines. They did this by connecting to onboard computers via the ports of the cars’ diagnostic systems.

Today’s cars contain as many as 100 mini computers, all of which control vital driving functions. Every electronic part is interconnected by a central system that hackers can potentially access, and since driver authentication is infrequently required, resolute hackers can more easily manipulate a vehicle’s software. The YouTube video How to Hack a Car: Phreaked Out (Episode 2) [click here to view it] clearly illustrates how hackers can virtually operate connected cars, making it easy for them to steal a car from as far as a mile away.

Car Hacking and What Officials Say about It

Incidents involving car hacking are appearing more and more in the news. In one incident, after a disgruntled former employee took over a web-based, vehicle-immobilization system at a Texan car sales center, more than 100 drivers found their vehicles disabled, or their horns honking uncontrollably.

David Johnson, the FBI Special Agent in charge for San Francisco, CA, sees hacking and other cyber crimes as one of his biggest concerns. He explains, “…with terrorism, technology theft and other threats emerging almost daily, the one thing that keeps me up at night is hacking, and other cyber crimes. Within the next decade, we’ll need to find solutions to this dilemma, because if we’re not a step ahead of the hackers, they’ll do more damage than what they did at Target, or JPMorgan Chase, for example.”

Should You Be Worried about Your Vehicle Getting Car Hacked?

Maybe not today, but definitely soon. Only a handful of wirelessly connected vehicles are on the market currently, but BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, Tesla and several more are developing new ones that will take the wireless approach even further. The chance of hacking into a particular vehicle depends on its architecture, and right now the hackers are devising new ways to break into those systems. Vehicles with many wireless features, such as Bluetooth, remote startup and tire-pressure monitoring are easier to hack than those with wireless features operating separately from its driving functions on an internal network.

So, Here's the Big Question—Should I Buy a Wireless Vehicle?

Like everything else in life, wireless connectivity in autos has benefits, but it also presents a series of potential pitfalls. The technology can be used to keep your children entertained, and allow automatic updates for software recalls, but in the end, is it worth it?

If you have a wireless car, become familiar with the system and find out about the vehicle’s remote shutdown feature. Always protect your personal information, and be wary of any aftermarket security device that isn’t recommended by the carmaker. At AutoBody, we pride ourselves on bringing you news that you can use in your daily lives by offering helpful driving and car maintenance safety tips, automotive technology updates and insights into the collision industry that you can’t find anywhere else.

Ed Attanasio
Ed has been a professional writer for more than 35 years and his specialties include B2B reporting, blogging, ad copywriting, public relations and general editorial.