While the modern convenience of remotely pre-heating your vehicle on a chilly winter day is undeniably appealing, so is the luxury of auto-assisted lane navigation and voice-controlled technology, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Yet these advanced features, built on complex software and swarming with microchips, create a goldmine of opportunities for intrepid hackers.
These intelligent vehicles can become unwitting gateways for cyber criminals aiming to glean sensitive details or interfere with integral mechanisms such as brakes and steering. Robert Falzon, the chief engineering executive at Ontario-based cybersecurity firm Checkpoint Canada, assumes that these vehicles are continuously tracking speed, direction and altitude among other parameters. The amassed data, unfortunately, can be exploited if vehicular security isn’t prioritized during the design phase.
A comprehensive report on global automotive cybersecurity revealed that vehicular breaches were predominantly initiated remotely via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or connected networks. These breaches accounted for an alarming 85% of all automotive cyber invasions from 2010 to 2021, with the percentage soaring to 97% as of 2022.
Burgeoning anxieties about privacy infringements in connected vehicles are rampant. AJ Khan, who founded Vehiqilla Inc., a firm specializing in cybersecurity for fleet cars, cautioned that the present-day scenario is rife with hackers capable of manipulating vehicles in motion, even potentially crashing them unless a ransom is paid.
In Khan’s perspective, any vehicle with internet capability, irrespective of whether it consumes fuel or electricity, is susceptible to hacking. However, it appears that electric vehicles may be more prone to digital theft.
Concordia University conducted a 2022 study revealing glaring vulnerabilities in both public and private electric vehicle charging units networked across Canada. According to Chadi Assi, a professor at the university, the hurry to satisfy an escalating demand led to vendors and operators overlooking cybersecurity during their deployment of these infrastructures.
Assi expounded on how an EV owner connects to the charging point through a mobile app. Unfortunately, these applications frequently had security loopholes. Despite these flaws, vehicular app-based breaches constituted a mere 12% of total invasions during 2022 according to an Upstream report. The more troubling aspect was that these breaches were 380% more frequent than they were a year prior.
Whenever payment or private information is exchanged at a charging station, the transmitted data might be unencrypted and thereby, exposed to theft. Further, if a charging junction falls afoul of a hacker, private data about the user and the vehicle, including its location and charging time, could be leaked. Worse still, the charging procedure could be disrupted or the battery, which is the most expensive EV component, could be damaged.
Assi emphasized that the stability of the power grid could be jeopardized if a cyber criminal managed to synchronize and control numerous charging stations. Recognizing these weaknesses, manufacturers were alerted in the prior year.
Despite cybersecurity eventually receiving global standardization to safeguard against potential risk vectors encompassing software, electronic control systems and wireless connectivity points, hackers continued to unearth and exploit security gaps. Khan emphasized that automotive cybersecurity is relatively uncharted territory, posing a continually evolving challenge as advances in software could bring about new vulnerabilities.
The daunting task ahead, however, is educating consumers about these threats.
Khan urged prospective car buyers to inquire about software and data protection measures available in vehicles. He equated queries about cybersecurity to those about traditional safety installations like seatbelts and airbags. As a best practice, vehicle owners should be familiar with the software installed in their cars and carry out regular updates to thwart potential cyber attackers.
Customers must also tread carefully while connecting their phones to shared or fleet vehicles to avoid leaving behind data traces. Additional safeguards include not connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, and not keeping car keys near entryways, since radio signals from fobs can be intercepted and manipulated to remotely start and steal vehicles.
Tim Burrows, a notable producer at Canada Talks Electric Cars and a seasoned electric vehicle user, voiced his recent concerns over cybersecurity. Although Burrows did not harbor deep-seated fears about the risk, he expressed potential fear should autonomous vehicles become common.
His observation holds testimony to the gravity of developing fool-proof cybersecurity measures in an era where technology is “driving the car.” It serves as a timely reminder that the brilliance of modern automotive technology must be met with equal vigilance and caution for unseen digital threats.
But, it is not just in the realm of the transportation industry that this caution is required, the digital world at large is fraught with potential dangers. Even the seemingly harmless pastime of online gambling harbors its own risks…
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