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An unfortunate reality of all smart devices is that, the smarter they get, and the more integrated into our lives they become, the more devastating a security breach can be. Smart cars are no exception. On the contrary, they come with their own specific set of vulnerabilities. Following high-profile incidents like the infamous Jeep hack, it’s more important than ever that smart car owners familiarize themselves with their inherent vulnerabilities. It may even save lives.

Want smart device shopping tips? Make sure your security isn’t sacrificed for convenience.

Smart Car Vulnerabilities

At a recent hacking competition, two competitors were able to exploit a flaw in the Tesla Model 3 browser system and compromise the car’s firmware. While the reported “Tesla hack” made waves in the industry, it actually isn’t even one of the most common vulnerabilities smart car owners should look out for. These, easier to exploit, vulnerabilities may be more relevant to the average owner.

Car alarms, particularly aftermarket car alarms, are one of the largest culprits in smart car security breaches. A recent study found that at least three million vehicles are currently at risk due to insecure smart alarms. By exploiting insecure direct object reference (IDORS) issues within the alarm’s software, hackers can track the vehicle’s GPS location, disable the alarm, unlock doors, and in some cases even kill the engine while it is being used.

Key fobs are often used by hackers to gain physical access to a vehicle. By using a relay attack, criminals are able to capture a key fob’s specific signal with an RFID receiver and use it to unlock the car. This high-tech version of a duplicate key comes with a decidedly low-tech solution: Covering your key fob in aluminum foil will prevent the signal from being skimmed.

On-Board diagnostic ports are legally required for all vehicles manufactured after 1996 in the United States. Traditionally used by mechanics, the on-board diagnostics-II (OBD-II) port allows direct communication with your vehicle’s computer. Because the OBD-II port bypasses all security measures to provide direct access to the vehicle’s computer for maintenance, it provides particularly tempting backdoor access for hackers.

Protecting Your Smart Car from a Cybersecurity Breach

Precautions should always be taken after buying a new smart device, and a smart car is no exception. Here are the best ways to protect your family from a smart car hack.

Update your car’s firmware and keep it that way. Do not skip an update because you don’t think it’s important or it will take too much time. Car manufacturers are constantly testing and updating vehicle software systems to keep their customers safe—and their brand name out of the news. Signing up for vehicle manufacturer recalls and software patches will help you stay on top of these updates.

Disable unused smart services. Any and all of your car’s connectivity ports that you do not use should be turned off, if not altogether disabled. This means that if you don’t use your car’s Bluetooth connectivity, deactivate it. Removing these access points will make your car less exposed to hacks.

Don’t be a beta tester. We all want the newest and hottest technologies, but that doesn’t keep us at our most secure. Make sure that you’re purchasing a vehicle with technology that has been field tested for a few years, allowing time for any vulnerabilities to be exposed. Cutting-edge technologies are good. But bleeding edge? Not so much.

Ask questions when buying your vehicle and don’t be afraid to get technical. Ask the dealer or manufacturer which systems can be operated remotely, which features are networked together, and how those gateways are secured. If you’re not comfortable with the answers, take your money elsewhere.

Advocate for your security. As smart cars become so smart that they begin to drive themselves, consumers must demand that manufacturers provide better security for autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles.

Only use a trusted mechanic and be mindful of who you grant access to your car. OBD-II ports are vulnerable but necessary, so skipping the valet may save you a costly automotive headache down the line.

Keep the Conversation Going

As our cars get smarter, their vulnerabilities will change. Check back here to keep yourself updated on the newest trends in smart car technologies, and stay ahead of any potential threats.


Drew Frey

About the Author

Drew Frey

Community & Advocacy Manager

As the manager of the community and advocacy programs, Drew is passionate about building lasting relationships with all enthusiasts of Webroot. When he’s not working at Webroot, you’ll find him spending time traveling all over Colorado with his wife and little dachshund, Boris.

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