Your Car At Risk, Hackers Can Attack Modern Cars Remotely

Hackers could attack modern cars without even touching them, as new car models roll off the line loaded with complex IT systems running millions of lines of software code, it's become evident that hacking a car to gain external control of it is possible. While actual cases in the field are rare, the industry is moving to secure its systems and prevent cars from becoming a major target said by Brian Jackson a security researcher. In the exclusive report he said: An unsuspecting driver opens her door and steps into her new car, placing her smartphone on the dash as it connects with the in-car infotainment system for hands-free features. Little does she know there's a Trojan virus on her phone just waiting to be connected to a car – and it executes malicious code on the vehicle's embedded software. Suddenly a hacker has the ability to track her car, unlock the doors, or even control the climate controls and speaker volume.
It sounds like a scene out of the next James Bond film, but the above scenario could be a reality today. As auto makers look to woo consumers with snazzy in-car technology features, they are also opening up personal vehicles to the underground community of hackers that have long targeted computer users. In-car IT systems such as Ford's Sync or General Motor's OnStar could be opening up exploits that allow hackers to take control of your car without even laying hands on it.
While complex in-car IT systems are so new that actual car hacking cases in the field are virtually non-existent, researchers have demonstrated it's possible. But investigations into car hacking by police may be impossible at this point because of a lack of forensics capability to detect malware. All the more reason for security vendors like McAfee, now a division of Intel Corp., to push car manufacturers to pay serious attention to security.
“It shouldn't be the responsibility of the consumers to have to secure these systems,” says Tim Fulkerson, senior director of marketing at McAfee embedded security group. “Just as manufacturers have built in seat belts and air bags, now that they're moving to software innovation, they need to bring software security into these vehicles.”
Best known for its PC antivirus software, McAfee is now working with car makers to build secure enough systems that consumers won't end up buying virus scan software for their ride. When it comes to car makers and securing IT system, Fulkerson says it “is certainly not their area of expertise.”
Perhaps that's why a team of car-hacking researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego have had so much success. Dubbed the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security (CAESS), the team demonstrated in May 2010 how a criminal with physical access to a car could implant malware. Then in August 2011, the team showed an external car hacking attack could be mounted through various paths including Bluetooth and cellular radio.
One such attack was executed after the researchers reverse-engineered a car's telematics operating system and found the program responsible for handling Bluetooth functions. From there, they planted a Trojan horse (a piece of malicious software) on an HTC Dream smartphone that monitors for new Bluetooth connections and if it finds a telematics unit, sends the payload.
Researchers were also able to use special hardware to “sniff” the MAC address of the Bluetooth connection needed for pairing new devices with the telematics unit. After cracking the password through brute force, or machine-assisted repeat attempts, the Trojan could be uploaded from a device in the attacker's hands.
But seeing such an attack executed in the wild today is unlikely, according to Patrick Neal, a program coordinator for crime and intelligence analysis at the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT). He had his students explore car hacking methods identified by the CAESS group and others. 


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