5 Tips for protecting your connected vehicle against Cyberattacks

November 29, 2022  |  Nahla Davies

The content of this post is solely the responsibility of the author.  AT&T does not adopt or endorse any of the views, positions, or information provided by the author in this article. 

As more connected vehicles hit the road, cyberattacks are increasing. Deloitte estimates that there will be over 470 million connected cars in use by 2025 if their popularity continues to grow at the current rate. And because each connected car produces about 25 GB of data every hour, they are a tempting challenge for cybercriminals and bad actors with malicious intent. 

Connected vehicles come with enhanced features that give drivers more to love about their favorite car brands, but cybersecurity in automobiles has a long way to go. If you drive a connected car or are considering buying one, you need to know how to protect your new car against a potential cyberattack. 

In this article, we’ll talk about how hackers can infiltrate your vehicle and what you can do to protect yourself and your car from a serious attack. 

Can your car get hacked?

Cars today are built using hundreds of sensors connected to computers that help monitor how your car operates, add internet capabilities, and enable connected apps. While these technologies are helpful and convenient for drivers, they can also lead to data theft and even threaten your safety while driving. For example, remote manipulation, identity theft, and vehicle theft are all ways that bad actors can exploit the security vulnerabilities of your connected car. 

The push toward electric vehicles also poses a unique threat to connected car owners. A recent survey revealed that 79% of two-car households are considering an electric car for their next purchase, but ethical hacking exercises have shown that electric vehicles can easily be drained by remote hackers. This can potentially put drivers in a dangerous situation if they are stranded without a means of charging their vehicle. 

There are many ways that bad actors can hack into your car. They can manipulate the signal from a key fob to unlock your doors, change the code in the apps to create a backdoor to steal your data, learn about your driving habits, control your vehicle’s security response systems, and much more. Cars today are essentially human-assisted computers, which means they can be hacked just as easily as any other IoT device. 

How to protect your connected vehicle from a cyberattack

Connected vehicles provide users convenience and peace of mind while traveling across the country or making their daily commute. But they also pose a significant threat when bad actors execute attacks for data theft, taking over vehicle controls, and even tracking your location. If you’re going to take advantage of connected vehicle features, you need to know how to protect yourself from becoming the victim of an automotive cyberattack. 

Here are five tips to protect your connected vehicle from an attack:

Remove dongles

Dongles are small devices that plug into the diagnostic port and allow companies to monitor your driving habits for various reasons. It can be used to monitor vehicle performance, improve gas mileage, and set more accurate insurance rates based on driving activity. 

Many people choose to use dongles to save money and ensure their car is running at top performance, but these devices can be an easy entry point for hackers. If you want to use a dongle in your connected vehicle, it’s best to take it out when you’re not driving so that hackers can’t take advantage of this attack vector while you’re unaware. 

Lock key fobs away

Key fobs are now standard over traditional keys to unlock vehicle doors. Many cars come with security features that won’t allow doors to be opened unless the fob is near the vehicle or require proximity for the vehicle to start. But hackers can intercept the key fob signal to trick the car into thinking the fob is closer than it really is by amplifying its signal. To protect from this type of attack, store your key fob in a metal drawer or refrigerator to reduce the keys’ signal when you’re not planning to drive.

Disable in-car wireless services

Wireless systems are also pretty standard in newer vehicles for things like in-car Wi-Fi, satellite radio, telematics, and Bluetooth. These wireless services allow users to have connected experiences while driving to make their trips safer and hands-free, but they are also perfect entry points for hackers to take advantage of. 

If you’re unsure what features your vehicle has, look at the owner’s manual and see if there are any features you don’t use that can be disabled. This will help reduce the attack surface and limit the ways that hackers can interfere with your vehicle.

Be cautious about installing unauthorized software and systems 

Many connected cars come with options to download additional apps, and those that don’t can still be jailbroken so that users can install aftermarket software and systems. While a fully custom vehicle is a nice thought, installing unauthorized software and systems can seriously threaten your physical and digital safety. 

Be sure to only download official software from trusted brands using a secure network, and learn the potential vulnerabilities of jailbreaking and installing new systems to your vehicle. 

Visit your service department if you suspect you’ve been hacked

If you think your car has been hacked, it’s time to get it to the service department so that the professionals can determine whether it was breached or is suffering another malfunction. 

There is no way to say for sure that your connected vehicle has been hacked without a comprehensive checkup from your car’s servicer. If your systems start to act funny or you notice your car behaving unusually, it’s crucial to get your car checked out, even if it is just a bug or configuration issue.     

Final thoughts

Connected cars make our daily drives safer, easier, and more convenient, but they can also pose a serious threat to our digital and physical safety. If you plan to buy a connected vehicle or you already drive one, it’s important to know the cyber risks so that you can proactively prevent an in-car attack. 

In addition to these five tips for protecting your connected vehicle from hackers, it’s recommended that you update your vehicle’s software and patch security bugs when new releases become available. Usually, this is something that the dealership or car company will do themselves, but if you attempt to do it on your own, ensure that all vulnerabilities are safe and secure. 

Pay attention to the news about this emerging technology, and stay informed about how to keep your connected vehicle secure while you’re on and off the road.

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