In short, as we’ve long suspected, the computers in today’s cars can be hijacked wirelessly by feeding specially crafted packets of data into their networks. There’s often no need for physical contact; no leaving of evidence lying around after getting your hands dirty.
This means, depending on the circumstances, the software running in your dashboard can be forced to unlock doors, or become infected with malware, and records on where you’ve have been and how fast you were going may be obtained. The lack of encryption in various models means sniffed packets may be readable.
Key systems to start up engines, the electronics connecting up vital things like the steering wheel and brakes, and stuff on the CAN bus, tend to be isolated and secure, we’re told.
The ability for miscreants to access internal systems wirelessly, cause mischief to infotainment and navigation gear, and invade one’s privacy, is irritating, though.
“Drivers have come to rely on these new technologies, but unfortunately the automakers haven’t done their part to protect us from cyber-attacks or privacy invasions,” said Markey, a member of the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“Even as we are more connected than ever in our cars and trucks, our technology systems and data security remain largely unprotected. We need to work with the industry and cyber-security experts to establish clear rules of the road to ensure the safety and privacy of 21st-century American drivers.”
Of the 17 car makers who replied [PDF] to Markey’s letters (Tesla, Aston Martin, and Lamborghini didn’t) all made extensive use of computing in their 2014 models, with some carrying 50 electronic control units (ECUs) running on a series of internal networks.
BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen (with Audi), and Volvo responded to the study. According to the senator’s six-page dossier:
- Over 90 per cent of vehicles manufactured in 2014 had a wireless network of some kind — such as Bluetooth to link smartphones to the dashboard or a proprietary standard for technicians to pull out diagnostics.
- Only six automakers have any kind of security software running in their cars — such as firewalls for blocking connections from untrusted devices, or encryption for protecting data in transit around the vehicle.
- Just five secured wireless access points with passwords, encryption or proximity sensors that (in theory) only allow hardware detected within the car to join a given network.
- And only models made by two companies can alert the manufacturers in real time if a malicious software attack is attempted — the others wait until a technician checks at the next servicing.
There wasn’t much detail on the security of over-the-air updates for firmware, nor the use of crypto to protect personal data being phoned home from vehicles to an automaker’s HQ.