Here's how you can stop your car from being hacked or stolen

The battle between innovative technology and criminals wages on in a world where cars have transformed into computerized marvels. How can you stay ahead?
Amal Jos Chacko
Representational image of a car thief.jpg
Representational image of a car thief.


In an era where vehicles have evolved into rolling computer centers, it's no surprise that the methods of car theft have also taken a high-tech turn. Today's cars are equipped with over a hundred computers and intricate software code that control every aspect of the vehicle's operation. 

Divided into four categories, these computers handle the drive train, safety features, infotainment systems, and navigation. As these systems are interconnected, a vulnerability in one area could potentially compromise the entire vehicle's security.

The drivetrain computers manage crucial functions like fuel control, battery management, emissions monitoring, and even cruise control. Safety computers gather data from both the car and its surroundings to enable features like lane correction, automatic braking, and backup monitoring. 

While the infotainment systems offer entertainment options through music, videos, and connectivity with personal devices, the navigation system, including GPS, ensures drivers stay on track.

However, this intricate web of connectivity also opens the door to new-age car theft. "One difference between the network in your car and a typical computer network is that all devices in the car trust each other,” explains Doug Jacobson, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University, in The Conversation.

“Therefore, if an attacker can access one computer, they can easily access other computers in the car."

High-tech heists unveiled

The evolution of car theft methods has taken on a tech-savvy flair. One of these involves exploiting the convenience of keyless entry fobs and remote start systems, which constantly transmit a code, checking if the car is nearby. 

Thieves have found ways to intercept these wireless signals, leading to car thefts that rely on hijacking wireless keys. Originally, thieves would eavesdrop on the radio signal transmitted by the key fob, enabling them to record and replay the signal to unlock the car. To combat this, newer fobs use one-time codes to enhance security.

Intriguingly, car thieves have also delved into hacking the vehicle's network itself. The Controller Area Network bus, used by all computers in the car to communicate, was designed to facilitate communication between car computers and lacks robust security measures. 

This vulnerability has led thieves to try hacking into the CAN bus to control the car's engine. Engine control units store wireless key code data, which can be cloned to a blank fob for starting the car. Methods include accessing onboard diagnostics through repair-related ports or even direct wiring connections through components like headlights.

A "throwback attack" method also gains attention in modern car theft. Known as the USB hack, this technique exploits a design flaw in specific vehicle models, mainly those by Hyundai and Kia

Thieves insert a USB connector into a slot in the steering column, essentially "hot-wiring" the car. Although it harks back to traditional car theft methods, it showcases how technology can still be manipulated for criminal gains.

Safeguarding your high-tech ride

As technology advances, car theft methods are likely to rise in sophistication. To combat these evolving threats, vehicle owners can adopt proactive measures to safeguard their high-tech rides. Conventional practices like keeping vehicles locked and refraining from leaving key fobs inside remain essential.

Moreover, staying up-to-date with vehicle software updates is now crucial. Just as individuals update their phones and computers to stay ahead of potential vulnerabilities, vehicles must undergo regular software maintenance to counter the ever-evolving tactics of tech-savvy thieves.

In a world where cars have transformed into computerized marvels, the battle between innovative technology and criminal ingenuity wages on. As cybersecurity experts and car manufacturers strive to stay ahead in this high-stakes race, car owners must remain vigilant and proactive to ensure their high-tech vehicles remain safely in their possession.

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