Could you have imagined five years ago that the car you’re driving would have greater computing power than the Apollo 11 that landed on the moon? And could you have imagined that those same cars would be manufactured with state-of-the-art roll bars, airbags and anti-lock brakes to prevent accident and injury, but not sufficient cyber security? Unfortunately that’s the reality now facing us.
Securing the Internet of Things and connected cars is set to be a major theme at this year’s Black Hat show in Las Vegas this week. And it’s an area in which Trend Micro is already leading the field.
Cars in crisis
Technology often has a nasty habit of advancing quicker than the cyber security measures needed to make it safe. We see it all the time in computer software and smartphone apps, driven by the manufacturers’ commercial imperative to get products ready and out on the market as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the case with the new generation of connected automobiles – products rushed out with potentially serious software flaws. The difference is that unlike a smartphone app, however, these vulnerabilities could put the user in real physical danger.
This will be fully explored at Black Hat when researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek show off a highly anticipated attack on a Jeep Cherokee. It works by hijacking the uConnect system used by the car to obtain wireless access to the vehicle’s controls. In so doing they claim to be able to remotely control the engine and brakes. All that’s needed is the car’s public IP address. It doesn’t take a genius to work out how dangerous that could be in the wrong hands.
Trend Micro has been researching this emerging area of cyber security for some time. We recently discovered that an attacker could quite easily gain access to the SmartGate system in Skoda cars which allows owners to read vehicle data including speed and gas consumption. All a hacker needs to do is stay within 50 feet of the car, identify its Wi-Fi network, and break the password – which is weakly secured. In real world tests we were able to crack the password while driving behind a car at 30-40 kph. Wi-Fi Direct also makes it easier for hackers to determine the PIN.
The vulnerability here is unlikely to put the driver in physical danger. However, there aren’t many Skoda owners out there who’d be happy knowing they could be stalked by a cybercriminal thanks to deficiencies in the design of the vehicle’s on-board computer systems.
Connected or protected?
It’s clear that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to cyber security in automobiles. And I’ll be looking forward to hearing about much more fascinating research like this at Black Hat and beyond.
At the end of July, Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act – which aims to mandate clear minimum standards for car manufacturers. It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. In the meantime, our global TrendLabs research team and the security community as a whole will continue to probe and highlight deficiencies in the next generation of computer-powered automobiles.
As Markey said, drivers shouldn’t have to choose between being connected and being protected.
For more information on Trend Micro’s presentations click on the following links: