How safe is Your Car from being hacked?

With recent reports of car hackers, the big question that’s on or should be on every driver’s mind is if your care is safe? Most recently, two researchers in the United States took control of a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee wirelessly and managed to transform car hacking from an engineering anomaly to a widespread recall issue. While sitting just 10 miles away on their sofa, the duo took control of the SUV and its radio, air-conditioning and more worryingly its engine and brakes.

In a first such breach of its kind, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek cut out the engine and applied the brakes by simply using their laptop and mobile phone to gain access to the vehicle’s onboard systems via its wireless internet connection, sending the Jeep Cherokee into a spin. The duo claims that more than half a million vehicles manufactured by Fiat Chrysler face a risk of being hacked including those cars driven in the UK. Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek – both security researchers worked with a writer at tech website – Andy Greenberg, who was driving the Jeep Cherokee on public roads in St. Louis, Missouri.

Greenberg describes in his tale of events how the windshield wipers turned on with full fluid, radio turned on full blast, air vents sent out cold air and a picture of Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek appeared on the vehicle’s display to signify that they had gained access. Greenberg further added that the hackers then slowed the car down to a halt as he was approaching the highway, but the worse maneuver was when they deactivated the Jeep’s brakes, leaving the SUV to slide uncontrollably into a ditch.

The hacking is not just limited to the vital components of the vehicle such as brakes, engine, air-conditioning, but enables surveillance by tracking the vehicle’s GPS co-ordinates, measuring its speed and tracing its route. Made possible by Uconnect – the computer feature installed in Fiat Chrysler vehicles since 2013, the hackers can control the navigation, entertainment system and even phone calls made in the vehicle. In light of this hack, US regulators are now involved in investigation Chrysler and its computer systems, but other car manufacturers are also questioning just how secure their computer systems are from cyber attacks.

Rumors of such cyber threats to vehicle is not something new to the car industry, but as modern electronic systems keep evolving with Bluetooth connectivity and other routes of wireless entry, the risks of vehicle cyber attacks is only expected to increase. The duo hackers reveal that all modern vehicles are fitted with ECU’s (Electronic Control Units) that control almost all components of a vehicle from the radio to the ABS system. The number of ECU’s in most modern vehicles can range from anywhere between 20-100 vulnerable access points. When these access points or ECU’s are hacked either through Bluetooth or DAB radio connections, the attackers can take control of a vehicle and send it into a frenzy. What this could mean to rising car insurance premiums is anyones guess, but it can only go one way.