Can Your Car Be Hacked?

Can Your Car Be Hacked?

Cyber threats and data security remain a big concern for individuals and businesses alike. But sometimes, the most effective cybersecurity comes down to the little things, like using strong passwords, installing security updates and keeping your car’s key fob in the freezer. Wait, what?

It’s true. Storing key fobs in a refrigerator or freezer can prevent someone from hacking into your car.

There is a developing concern that increasingly connected motor vehicles are vulnerable to cyber attacks. This concern prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to release a public service announcement to alert consumers about the potential cyber threats that come with increased vehicle connectivity.

Vehicle hacking occurs when someone uses a computer to gain unauthorized access to vehicle systems to retrieve driver data or manipulate vehicle functionality. Though not all hacking incidents jeopardize safety, like a hacker taking control of a vehicle, the FBI stresses the importance of taking appropriate steps to minimize risk. This means consumers must understand the ways in which their vehicles may be hacked.

Here are some vulnerabilities that can be exploited to hack a vehicle.

  • Wireless Tire Pressure Monitors. These systems are directly connected to the vehicle’s main computer and transmit wireless signals that can be intercepted by hackers.
  • Multi-Media Systems. Files downloaded and used in vehicles (music, movies, etc.) may contain viruses or malicious software (malware) that can be used by hackers to gain access.
  • In-Car Wi-Fi. Vehicles that are directly connected to the Internet can be hacked like any other device that is connected to the Internet.
  • Bluetooth. Viruses and malware can be introduced when smartphones are synced to Bluetooth capable vehicles. In addition to vehicle-specific hacks, like remotely unlocking or starting a vehicle, a hacked Bluetooth system could jeopardize the security of sensitive data stored on synced smartphones.
  • Navigation Systems. Internet connections and outside networks used by in-car navigation systems can give hackers access to a vehicle’s controller network or stored data.
  • Key Fobs. Keyless entry and start systems continuously transmit random codes between a fob and the vehicle. These transmissions can be intercepted and hacked. The random codes that are constantly being transmitted by fobs can be blocked by storing the fob in a metal drawer, refrigerator or freezer.

Here are some tips that can help minimize the risk of vehicle hacking.

  • Keep the vehicle’s software current. Routinely check for (and install) new security updates. The FBI cautions that hackers may send socially engineered e-mail messages to vehicle owners who are looking for legitimate software updates. These messages may include links to malicious web sites or attachments containing malware.
  • Be careful when modifying a vehicle’s software. According to the FBI, improper software modifications or adjustments can introduce new vulnerabilities that may be exploited by hackers. They can also affect the installation of authorized software updates.
  • Exercise discretion when connecting third-party devices to a vehicle. Modern vehicles have standardized diagnostics ports (OBD-II) that directly connect to a vehicle’s computer systems. These ports have traditionally been used by maintenance and service technicians. However, third-party devices, such as insurance dongles and telematic monitoring tools, are increasingly being connected to these ports. The FBI cautions that the security of these devices is important because they can provide a new means of access for hackers.
  • Exercise discretion when giving others physical access to a vehicle. The FBI advises that vehicles, like personal computers or smartphones, should not be left in unsecure locations or with people who are not trusted.

When protective measures are not enough, it helps to have insurance coverage that is specifically designed to protect both individuals and businesses that have been victimized by hackers. For example, identity theft coverage can help individuals cover the cost of clearing their name. Businesses can rely on Cyber Liability and Security Breach (Cyber Perils) coverage to protect against various cyber threats, including the cost of complying with data breach notice laws.

Please contact us if you would like more information about insurance specifically designed to protect against cyber threats.

Additional information is also available in our weekly Risk Management Newsletters.