Protecting connected cars from hackers

We are all aware of the threat of hacking into our laptops or desktop computers, and to a lesser extent of awareness, our mobile devices – but our cars? Sadly, with the increase in technology being applied in our vehicles, such as internet WiFi hotspots and autonomous driving features, cars are going to be more vulnerable than ever to hacking and data theft.

In future, more vehicles are likely to rely more on external cloud services to assist with self-driving and other functions – and it is becoming more and more important that manufacturers should manage the security of automotive software and provide appropriate aftercare and incident response to ensure that these systems remain secure over their lifetime.

Right now, the risk of hackers gaining access to your automotive on board systems may be low, but as manufacturers increase their investment in self-driving technology this risk will rise over time.

Keyless entry systems are becoming common in modern vehicles. These systems work by recognising a low-powered signal from the key fob in a pocket or bag – unlocking the doors and enabling the ignition. There have been reports that car thieves use signal boosters to beat the need for proximity, allowing the thieves to open the car doors even if you are a distance away.

There are now concerns that thieves in Europe and Russia are bypassing the fob and car link altogether and hacking into the car systems directly using their own devices.

What can you do to protect your car? Make sure that your fob is stored well out of reach of your parked car at home. Consider buying a ‘Faraday Bag’ that blocks radio signals – or store your fob in the fridge or freezer at home. You could consider turning the fob off when not in use, or simply removing the batteries.

It should be noted that the problems emerging overseas have not yet reached Australia. Car manufacturers are also working hard to stay one step ahead. However, you do need to be aware of potential risks, and that security issues need to be considered for your vehicle as well as your other computer equipment.