Navigating the Cyber Highway: The Growing Threat of Automotive Hacking

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As we progress through the digital age, advancements in technology go hand in hand with escalated vulnerabilities. This rule is not limited to our laptops and smartphones but extends to all things digital, including the automotive industry.

The continuous evolution of automotive technology paints a spectrum of opportunities, but it also leaves a backdoor open for nefarious acts of automotive hacking. This lingering threat has come to pose a daunting concern for vehicle owners and the heavyweight automotive industry alike.

Deciphering Automotive Hacking

Broadly, automotive hacking is an act of unauthorized intrusion into a vehicle’s electronic system. Exploiting the inherent vulnerabilities in a vehicle’s software architecture and connectivity systems, these unscrupulous hacking endeavours can lead to drastic manipulations of a vehicle’s functionality.

To give you an idea of the severity of the situation, a report by the globally renowned cybersecurity firm, McAfee, titled “Caution: Malware Ahead,” highlights how cybercriminals have managed to seize control of a vehicle’s essential functions. By exploiting software vulnerabilities, hackers can undermine the driver’s safety and breach privacy–a sobering reality of the digital age (McAfee, 2019).

Exploring Types of Automotive Hacking

Automotive hacking broadly falls under two categories:

  • Remote Hacking: As the term suggests, remote hacking is when a hacker infiltrates a vehicle’s system without physical contact. It’s achieved using wireless communication channels and has some infamous incidents to its credit—for example, in 2015, security researchers remotely killed a Jeep Cherokee’s engine on the highway. 
  • Physical Hacking: Unlike remote hacking, Physical hacking requires direct contact with the vehicle. Here, the hacker connects their equipment to the diagnostic port of a car and gains control over the car’s operations.

The Vulnerabilities of Connected Cars

Connected cars are increasingly becoming an integral part of our digital ecosystem. These vehicles are armed with state-of-the-art features such as infotainment systems, GPS navigation, and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). While these innovations have undoubtedly improved the driving experience, they have also inadvertently made cars susceptible to cyberattacks due to their interconnected nature.

Exploitable Systems

Cybercriminals have found ways to exploit these systems’ inherent vulnerabilities, thereby gaining unauthorized access to a vehicle’s functions. These unauthorized accesses do not merely mar convenience but pose a severe threat to passenger safety. They transform a mere vehicle into a moving casualty, steered by a remote hacker.

Common Gateways for Cyberattacks

There are numerous gateways that hackers can use as an entry point into your vehicle’s systems. Some of the most common entry points for these cyberattacks include: 

  • Wireless connections: As cybercriminals advance, so do their methods of cyberattacks. Wireless connections, spearheading the path of seamless connectivity, have become hotspots for such attacks. 
  • Infotainment Systems: The Infotainment systems, designed for convenience, have unfortunately also become an exploitable gateway. 
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems: Even the most unsuspecting elements such as tire pressure monitoring systems aren’t spared from attacks. 
  • Diagnostic Ports: The inbuilt diagnostic ports, meant to gauge vehicle health, can serve as a bridge for cybercriminals to infiltrate your vehicle’s systems. 

Potential Consequences of Automotive Hacking

The successful execution of automotive hacking can lead to grave and far-reaching consequences. It is imperative to understand the myriad of potential scenarios that can arise from such illicit activities: 

  • Remote Control Takeover:  In this alarming situation, hackers can gain complete control over critical vehicle systems, such as steering, acceleration, and braking remotely. This endangers not only the passengers within the vehicle but also other road users who may share the vicinity. 
  • Data Theft: Connected vehicles are gold mines for the treasure troves of personal data they store. This includes crucial information such as location history, driving patterns, and even biometric information. A successful cyberattack can result in the theft of this sensitive data, leading to severe privacy breaches and identity theft. 
  • Ransomware Attacks on Vehicles: Much like other industries, the automotive sector is also vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Hackers can deploy this malicious software on vehicles, effectively holding them hostage until a ransom is paid. This consequently disrupts transportation systems and creates chaos on the roads. 

By understanding the perilous consequences of automotive hacking, it is evident that securing our vehicles from such cyber threats is crucial. By implementing preventive measures and constantly evolving cybersecurity strategies, both vehicle owners and the automotive industry can work together to address and mitigate this ever-growing concern. 

Examples of Automotive Hacking Incidents

To gain a deeper understanding of the threat posed by automotive hacking, examining a few known incidents is crucial.

Jeep Cherokee Hack (2015)

This high-profile incident involved cybersecurity researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, who demonstrated their ability to remotely exploit a vulnerability in the infotainment system of a Jeep Cherokee. By gaining access through the car’s Uconnect system, they took control of critical vehicle functions, such as the steering, brakes, and transmission.

This alarming demonstration forced Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles and significantly amplified discussions surrounding automotive cybersecurity. The incident was a wake-up call for the automotive industry, highlighting the need for robust security measures to counteract the growing threat of remote hacking.

Tesla Model S Hack (2016)

In 2016, white-hat hackers from Keen Security Lab at Tencent demonstrated their capability to remotely control the Tesla Model S under certain conditions. The lab released a video showing them performing advanced operations, such as opening the sunroof, moving the seat, and even initiating the car’s self-parking feature. 

Immediately following these findings, Tesla released an over-the-air software patch to address the reported vulnerabilities. This incident indicated that even companies with a strong focus on cybersecurity could still have vulnerabilities and must treat security as an ongoing process.

Nissan Leaf Hack (2016)

In early 2016, security researcher Troy Hunt published the vulnerability he found in the Nissan Leaf’s companion app, NissanConnect. Using only the target vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), an attacker could potentially access the car’s climate control system and drain its battery. While the vulnerability did not pose a severe safety threat, it underlined the need for secure mobile applications and strong access controls to protect connected car systems. 

Each of these incidents serves as a reminder that automotive cybersecurity is not just a theoretical concern but a tangible and imminent danger. By analysing these cases, stakeholders can better understand the challenges and potential threats associated with automotive hacking, and work together to develop strategies and solutions to counteract them. 

Protecting Your Vehicle from Automotive Hacking

In the throes of an evolving digital age, it is of utmost importance to safeguard ourselves and our prized possessions from any potential cyber vulnerabilities. Vehicles, once merely a mode of transport, now fall into the category of digital assets that also need protection. 

Strategies to Secure Your Vehicle

In this digital age where vehicles have become sophisticated digital assets, protection from potential cyber vulnerabilities has become crucial. Mitigating the risks of automotive hacking requires active measures from numerous parties including automakers, cybersecurity specialists, policymakers, and consumers.

Defensive Measures and Strategies

  • Regular Software Updates: Keep your vehicle’s software and firmware up to date. Automakers frequently release updates to fix security loopholes. Some automakers even use over-the-air (OTA) updates to deliver these patches directly to vehicles. 
  • Securing Network Connections: Strengthen the security of your network connections like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular connections (Tse et al., 2018). Use unique, robust passwords and enable encryption protocols for added layers of security. 
  • Exercising Caution with Third-Party Devices: Conduct thorough research on aftermarket devices or software before their installation. Understand the security vulnerabilities that may come with these devices to avoid unnecessary risks (Liu et al., 2019). 
  • Guarding Personal Data: Limit the storage of personal information in your vehicle’s systems and regularly clear data from infotainment systems and connected devices to reduce the risk of data theft (ACLU, 2019). 
  • Reliable and Secure Applications: Use applications from trustworthy sources and exercise caution when granting them permissions to access your vehicle-related information (Serna et al., 2017). 
  • Disabling Unnecessary Remote Access: Consider deactivating remote access features if they’re not vital for your vehicle’s operation. This action minimizes potential entry points for hackers (Becher et al., 2013). 

Effective Mitigation Approaches

  • Secure Software Design: Automakers prioritize secure software development from the outset to integrate robust cybersecurity measures into the vehicle’s design. 
  • Robust Authentication & Encryption: Implement strong authentication protocols and encryption techniques for securing vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, thereby preventing unauthorized access and tampering. 
  • Collaborative Efforts: Cooperation and collaboration between automakers, cybersecurity firms, government agencies foster the sharing of threat intelligence and cybersecurity best practices. 
  • Consumer Awareness and Education: Increase your knowledge about the risks associated with automotive hacking and understand the steps required for securing your connected vehicles. 

Utilizing this multi-faceted approach and collaborative effort, it’s possible to diminish and manage the risks posed by automotive hacking, ensuring a safer and more secure experience for all road users. 


The mounting tension in automotive hacking reveals an undeniable reality in our highly digital age; the landscape of cybersecurity now stretches to the realm of vehicles, which have been transformed into sophisticated digital assets. This cyber threat growth invites us to adopt strategic foresight and a keen understanding of cybersecurity to effectively combat and manage the threats. It’s important for manufacturers to leverage robust cybersecurity measures, secure software designs, and regular software updates. Users, on the other hand, must maintain strong digital hygiene–like frequently updating passwords and software, minimizing stored personal data, and utilizing secure and reliable applications. 

At VE3, we aim to help our clients not only identify but overcome these challenges. As a leading firm in IT Consulting and Services, we place emphasis on comprehensive strategies and solution frameworks to combat automotive hacking. Our team of specialists works in synergy with automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers to integrate advanced threat intelligence and cyber defence capabilities into vehicle architectures. We actively invest in IoT security to promote secure connectivity and make safety our utmost priority. In an era where vehicles have become critical components of our connected world, securing them isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. With VE3 by your side, you can rest assured that your journey will be safer, thus significantly alleviating the escalating concerns and implications of automotive hacking. Together, let’s drive towards a secure automotive ecosystem. 


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