shutterstock_114919174We’ve all been taught to lock our car doors when we leave to prevent break-ins. However, as cars become more and more connected, it’s possible for people to “break” into your car without actually breaking into it.

Car hacking is a trending topic for people who own late-model vehicles. The systems in the cars all talk to each other, and this tangled web of communication can often leave holes where car hackers can sneak in. Hackers have done everything from stealing data stored in the car to stopping cars completely on the highway — and it’s only a matter of time until only a matter of time until it gets worse.

But is it time for you to worry about car hackers yet, or is this all just fear-mongering? Read on to find out.

What Is a Car Hack?

A car hack happens when someone gains unauthorized access to your car’s systems via a computer. They can change how your car functions, as well as steal the data that is stored inside your car — and they can do all this from miles away.

How Can a Hacker Access Your Car?

Hacking into a car is unfortunately a simple task for a hacker who is well-versed. We often refer to the many systems in our cars as “high-tech.” The reality is that these systems, while streamlined on the outside, are still run by very simple protocols. Cars haven’t reached the point yet where security is paramount to the design.

All of the systems in your car communicate with each other. Most do this using a protocol called Controller Area Network (CAN) bus. This protocol has been around since the early 1980s, which means the technology has no security screening whatsoever.

Professionals in the car industry estimate there are over 50 hacking hotspots on a car, including the keyless entry port, the lights, the engine and the steering and braking ECU. One of the most sensitive hotspots, however, is the OBD II port, typically located on the driver’s side dashboard. This is the car’s “command center” that provides a link to the rest of the systems.

Hackers can connect their device directly through this port and have access to basically all of your car’s diagnostics.

It’s just as easy to hack a car without a direct connection. Hackers can study network holes in the car and access it through one of the holes. The holes are found when two different devices communicate with each other, such as a CD player and an on-boarding system, which creates software conflicts.

These attacks could also be amplified on a larger scale. Suppliers who manufacture the parts for car systems often sell similar technology to a number of brands. Since these systems are virtually the same, there’s a good chance that a critical issue could affect a number of cars and cause them to be recalled. Once a hacker gets word of the issue, they could exploit its vulnerabilities.

How to Prevent Hackers From Entering Your Car

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent your car from being an easy target:

  1. Make sure your car’s software is up-to-date — check your manufacturer’s website often, and never download software from a third party website or file-sharing platform.
  2. Use extra caution if you choose to modify your vehicle’s software.
  3. Use discretion when connecting a third party device to your car.
  4. Know who can access your car.
  5. Do not leave your vehicle unlocked — under any circumstances!

Is There a Reason to Be Worried?

Even though all of this seems scary, you shouldn’t be worried just yet. While car hacking poses a risk to many late-model car owners, most of the news you hear about car hacking was done by researchers. Since security experts have only recently found out how many ways cars’ networks can be compromised, they want to test different situations in order to improve safety.

In addition, the fact that car hacking requires advanced levels of technical skill and commitment rules out the possibility of an “everyman” criminal hacking your ride.

Still, cars will only become more connected in the future, which is why now is a great time to start paying attention to vehicle cybersecurity.

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