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What You Need to Know About Car Hacking

What You Need to Know About Car Hacking

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When you think about keeping your valuables safe from hacking, you probably think of your computer or your phone. These are no longer the only target. Today’s cars can have up to one hundred million lines of code and more connectivity than ever before. Just like with your home computer, this connectivity makes your car vulnerable to hacking.

Hacking Through Your Key

Modern car keys have a chip inside them. The car won’t start without a key that has matching programming. The result is a car that’s more secure, and can’t be started with old fashioned hot wiring.

There are hackers who have found ways to use this chip security against cars. A famous example comes from 2012. A group of security hackers found an exploit in chips from EM Microelectronic in Switzerland, who provided chips to dozens of different manufacturers. This exploit has been fixed, but discovering it pointed out that this new threat must be proactively countered by manufacturers.

Hacking through the Network

Most of the new cars on the road today have wireless connectivity of some sort, ranging from bluetooth cell phone integration to wireless internet hubs to navigation services. The same connectivity that brings all of this technology together can also open up a door to determined hackers.

The reality of this really came to light in the summer of 2015 with an article in Wired magazine. A pair of hackers demonstrated to a Wired reporter how they could hack into a Jeep Cherokee and control key systems, including the brakes or acceleration. Shortly afterwards other exploits were reported, including a hack that could stop the engine on a Tesla Model S, or one that used the GM connection app to unlock doors and start the car.

Manufacturers responded quickly to close these vulnerabilities within a matter of days, but the fact remains that it is possible to hack into cars through connectivity services.

How Much of a Threat Is Hacking?

All of this sounds scary and dangerous, but don’t worry. Truth be told, it takes a lot of effort, investment, and specialized knowledge to hack into a car. The key hack from 2012 required a coordinated strategy of electronically monitoring the car when it was started, such as being a valet driving or renting a car. Even before the loophole was closed, the chip stopped common car thieves, and only sophisticated organized crime could have pulled off the hack.

That difficulty means that hacking isn’t that much of a threat to the average person. Both the Jeep and Tesla hack described above require physical access to the car first, and expensive hardware. The fact is, there are plenty of easier ways to damage or manipulate a car. Hacking requires a big investment of equipment and time, and it’s just not worth it for most criminals.

That being said, manufacturers want to keep you and other drivers as safe as possible.

What’s Being Done About Car Hacking?

Just like with a computer network, the best defense against hacking is beefing up security and using higher-level encryption. Since hacking was first brought to the attention of car makers, the sophistication, security, and encryption have all been increased substantially.

That being said, errors do slip through on any product. Even tech giants like Apple will release products that have exploitable holes in their security. Once it’s found, Apple simply releases an update that closes the hole. The same is true with auto manufacturers. When they find holes, errors, or problems, they’ll issue software updates in the form of recalls. Drivers with affected cars simply bring their car into the dealer, have the software updated, then get back on the road.


Hacking is simply a reality of our modern networked lives, and that now includes cars. While it is a threat, it’s also one that is being actively countered, so you can feel safe driving your car.

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