The modern automobile is a microcosm for our networked society. Everything from the brakes to the dual-zone climate control and from the windscreen wipers to the CD player is connected through a Controller-Area-Network (CAN) bus.
Like the nerves in our bodies, this network passes information from one component to another. It allows the anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control to work in unison, disconnects the cruise control when you step on the accelerator and allows the headlights to switch themselves on in low light conditions.
Like all networks, however, the ones in our cars are vulnerable to attack from hackers. Last year, researchers with the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security (CAESS) at the University of California San Diego and the University of Washington demonstrated how a car could be hacked through its ODB-II port.
This is the same thing mechanics use to access a car’s onboard diagnostic system. The group also demonstrated methods of hacking using the car’s telematics system (i.e. OnStar), through malware-laced mp3s and over Wi-Fi.
Don’t worry too much though, as CAESS (and others) are convinced that it’s hardly worth the time, effort and money for hackers to even attempt it.
Chrysler spokesman Vince Muniga even went so far as to call it, “highly unlikely”. Even so, many automakers – including GM and Ford – are working hard to improve their in-car security.
Programmer Brad Hein explains: “Just like the internet in its early days, car networks don’t employ very much security. As more people start to access car networks, I expect that the auto industry will start beefing up the security.”
With the prevalence of mobile phone and wireless network hacking, one can only wonder how long it will be before criminals begin targeting our cars in much the same way.
By Tristan Hankins