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How Protective Is Your Car From Hackers?

Snapshot: All the wireless communication and navigation technologies creeping in our everyday cars might put us against the next big security threat which is Car Hacking. If the idea seems far fetched to you, let us tell you that it is possible and has been demonstrated.

You really love having Bluetooth telephony and GPS navigation in your car, don’t you? All this technology has really made our lives easier. While in older days electronics were limited to the lamps and starter motor, now almost everything is going electric. Even the simple hydraulic steering as we knew it is assisted by an electric motor. And as things become complicated, they become vulnerable. All the wireless communication and navigation technologies creeping in our everyday cars might put us against the next big security threat which is Car Hacking.

Can Modern Vehicles Be Hacked?
If the idea seems far fetched to you, let us tell you that it is possible and has been demonstrated. Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller have been working on this and demonstrated by taking over the control of steering and brakes of a Toyota Prius and Ford Escape. This is a clear indication that the modern vehicles are vulnerable and can be hacked. In fact at the Black Hat security conference at Las Vegas, an analysis of various car models was released. They examined these vehicles for their vulnerabilities on different parameters. In some of the cases, it is possible to control the vehicle by hacking the radio which is really something to be worried about.

Some Hacking Statistics
The analysis yielded the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, 2014 Infinity Q50 and 2015 Cadillac Escalade are the cars that can be hacked very easily. The Prius didn’t fare very well either. The list included various other cars from manufacturers like Range Rover, BMW and Audi. Nowadays the cars offer a lot of connectivity options apart from Bluetooth in radio. Cars these days feature cellular connectivity, NFC, Wi-Fi, keyless entry systems and many other features. These features give more ways for someone to enter the system and cause any damage.

What can hackers generally manipulate in cars?
Modern cars boast of stuff like emergency brakes, automated parking, and cruise control to list a few. Various parameters are monitored by the vehicle to make sure these features work seamlessly. Obviously some of these features require providing control of the car to the car computer. The computers obtain data from various sensors and send out a command. Commands from the car processor initiate these functions but a hacker can make use of these commands to gain control over the vehicle. It is simply about using the resources effectively and fake the commands to fool the car into doing something stupid like use parking assist at high speeds.

Safety Against Car Hacking
If you are trying to keep yourself safe from these car hackers, there are a couple of methods. You can choose a car which is actually better against these attacks as compared to others. It depends on how the network is laid out. In some of the cars, all the driving functions are well separated from other wireless connectivity features making them less vulnerable to an attack. This is also an indication that manufacturers have been anticipating something like this in near future and some of them have actually been keeping ready for this.

Tools to Prevent Car Hacking 
Also to ensure safety against car hacking, the individuals who have been actively associated with this research have built an affordable device that could prevent these car hacking attacks. This device costs USD 150 and consists of an mbed NCD micro controller and a simple board. There is an OBD2 port in modern cars which is usually used to diagnose the car and control various parameters. The anti-hacking device also connects through the same port and it learns the typical pattern of data transfer. This includes the signal flow when you are driving, braking, parking and when the vehicle is parked. Then it switches into detection mode and monitors the unusual flow of signals. This might involve a signal being sent to a parked car which should be sent at higher speeds.

How does this device work?
If the device detects any unusual signal, it would put the car in limp mode which shuts down its network and kills the high level functions like lane assist and power steering. The device has been tested to be quite effective in stopping these attacks and hasn’t misinterpreted the signals. While it is being said that malicious hackers haven’t targeted cars yet but it doesn’t really hurt to be prepared against any such potential attacks well in advance.

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