thief hacking car computer

As the latest computer technology makes its way into new automobiles, research suggests that our cars could become vulnerable to car hacking. While today’s connected car systems undoubtedly offer practical conveniences for many drivers, unfortunately, they may also provide a means of access for car hackers.

If hackers can operate personal vehicles by remotely controlling their operating systems, drivers may be helpless to prevent serious car accidents. In this article, Joye Law Firm explores the new threats of car computer hacking, how you can protect yourself from hackers, and what to do in an accident.

Regardless of changes in technology, one thing hasn’t changed since 1968 – Joye Law Firm is here for South Carolina accident victims. We’ve secured over a half a billion dollars in personal injury verdicts and settlements for our clients, and we’re ready to help you. Don’t hesitate to contact our firm if you’ve been involved in a car accident, especially a car hacking-related accident. You can call us at (888) 324-3100, begin a live chat session, or fill out our online contact form to get started with your free case review.

What Is Car Hacking?

Car hacking may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. But according to computer scientists, new vehicles have been susceptible to hackers since 2005, at least.

Most new vehicles contain computerized systems, including electronic control units (ECUs), controller area networks (CANs), Bluetooth technology, connected smartphone apps, and remote key fobs. Many vehicles use the internet to connect to centralized servers. Unfortunately, any of these computerized systems may be vulnerable to car hackers.

Car hacking is a catch-all term for the various ways a hacker can infiltrate weak security systems and gain unauthorized access to a vehicle’s software, hardware, communications technology, and more. In theory, once a hacker accesses a hacked car, they can remotely transmit computerized instructions to the vehicle, forcing it to brake unexpectedly, shut off power steering, or even lock occupants inside. Car hacks are already a serious concern for automakers.

According to cybersecurity firm Auth0, automotive cybersecurity incidents recently doubled and will only continue to rise as autonomous and semi-autonomous driving systems become more commonplace. Car hacking incidents include remote carjackings, vehicle data breaches, and hackers taking control of moving vehicles. A recent survey of manufacturers revealed that 84 percent of vehicle manufacturers are concerned that their cybersecurity systems cannot keep pace with new technologies.

Common Types of Vehicle Hacking

The ways in which a vehicle can be hacked vary significantly depending on the car. However, the following kinds of hacks are especially common:

  • Key fob hacks – Computerized key fob system hacks are among the most common. Hackers can gain access to vehicles by cloning the signals that normally go from the key fob to the car. Hackers can alter the effective range of a key fob with inexpensive everyday materials, which for safety reasons, we will not list here.
  • Mobile app hacks – Many automotive manufacturers offer mobile apps that allow vehicle owners to lock, unlock, and remotely start their cars. Unfortunately, these convenient apps also make hacking a vehicle much easier as they decentralize these processes.
  • Server hacks – Server hacks are the most potentially disastrous car hacks. A server is a computerized storage system that saves data and communicates with many other devices. If a hacker gains control of a server, they may get access to every vehicle connected to it.

Can Self-Driving Cars be Hacked?

Fully autonomous vehicles do not exist yet, but semi-autonomous cars are already on the road. Self-driving vehicles require advanced computer systems and millions of lines of code to navigate on their own. These extensive systems provide plenty of opportunities for car hackers.

Computer engineers say advanced sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) systems in self-driving cars may be most susceptible to hacks. For instance, hackers could send false data to vehicles’ sensors that cause them to stop, crash, or behave erratically.

In truth, we have no way of knowing the potential cybersecurity threats to fully autonomous vehicles until they become more widely available. In the meantime, semi-autonomous features like automatic emergency brakes likely prevent more accidents than they cause.

How to Protect Your Car from Car Hackers

While the risk of car hacking is low, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you own a vehicle with semi-autonomous safety features, here are some potential signs of car hacking to watch out for:

  • Unusual warnings from vehicle monitoring systems
  • Loss of control of brake pedals or engine
  • Unexpected changes in time displays, audio, or GPS destinations
  • Unexpected acceleration
  • Extended effective ranges for key fobs
  • Spontaneous windshield wiper movement or cleaning fluid release

In addition to gaining unauthorized vehicle access, hackers could hold try to extort money from automobile owners or steal data for illicit purposes. While the manufacturers of connected cars have the greatest responsibility to keep their customers safe, you can also protect yourself from car hackers. You should:

  • Refrain from programming your home address into any onboard GPS systems, as hackers could gain access to your home or garage door opener.
  • Limit the use of wireless or remote systems, which are most vulnerable.
  • Never leave any vehicle-related passwords written down in your car. Hacking can occur through physical access as well as remote access.
  • Bring your vehicle to reputable shops for maintenance and repairs.
  • Do not download unrecognized apps to your vehicle’s infotainment system.
  • Pay close attention to vehicle recalls, especially those related to cybersecurity.

Car Hacking Claims

Although the risk of remote hacking is relatively small, the risk is growing daily. Connected car manufacturers have recently been implicated in multiple class-action lawsuits.

The plaintiffs in these lawsuits claim that connected car technologies create an unacceptable risk of theft, property damage, injury, and death, as well as lowering the cars’ potential resale value. Plaintiffs have also accused manufacturers of invasions of privacy through collecting and transmitting vehicle performance and location data.

More of these claims are likely to be filed as these technologies and their related risks become more commonplace.

Talk to an Experienced Car Accident Attorney if You Need Legal Assistance

A car accident can occur at a moment’s notice. As cars become more technologically complicated and interconnected, the ways that an accident can happen will increase. If you have been injured in a car accident in South Carolina, particularly one that you suspect involved car hacking, the auto accident attorneys at Joye Law Firm are ready to help you. Contact us for a free consultation at 888-324-3100 or fill out our convenient online form today.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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