We’ve all heard of the dangers of cybercrime. How, in an instant, a hacker hundreds of miles away can access our private information, be it bank details or personal identity documents. And, as more devices are connected to the internet, the risk of falling victim to wireless criminality is becoming ever more likely — something we all need to be aware of in the coming years.

When you think of cybercrime, you probably think of computers, tablets and smartphones. But the reality is criminals can and will target any device connected to the web, whether it’s a wireless printer, Wi-Fi-enabled home thermostat or even a baby monitor.

But what about cars, are they at risk of being hacked by cyber criminals? And if so, what danger does this pose to the driver? Here, we’ll explore why motorists need to be aware of the risks of cybercrime, and what manufacturers are doing to prevent it.

car cyber-security

Cybercrime and Cars: The Problem

While modern cars have been fitted with complex electronics for years, the birth of the so-called ‘connected car’ — cars connected to wireless internet — means that criminals can now gain access to our cars from anywhere in the world simply by hacking into the Wi-Fi network.

As of 2016, there are 8.6 million connected cars in the UK. That means millions of motorists are at risk of having their car broken into wirelessly, with potentially devastating results.

Though car-hacking hasn’t become a major problem yet, security experts believe it won’t be long before criminals start to take advantage of this form of cybercrime.

Alex Moiseev, managing director of cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab, said: “It might sound like fantasy but this could happen. It happens with desktop computers now, so it’s just a question of time before the bad guys move into your car, too.”

Despite this, it has to be said that connected cars do offer great plus points for modern motorists. Technology like collision sensors and automatic emergency braking have improved vehicle safety enormously, and features like enhanced digital mapping for sat navs, keyless entry and automatic connectivity with mobile devices have all been designed to make life easier for drivers.

The problem is, these features rely on the car’s wireless capabilities — leaving the driver potentially exposed to the risks of car-hacking.

The Risks of Car Cybercrime

Imagine you’re driving a brand new car when the wipers come on, the radio switches to another station, and the engine cuts off. Then, a message appears on the touchscreen telling you that your car has been hacked and you no longer control the brakes, steering and data, and to unlock it you need to pay a £500 fine.

This might sound like something from science fiction, but it could and has happened.

During a cyber security event in the US called Black Hat, a standard connected car was remotely hacked to demonstrate what criminals can do by accessing a car’s Wi-Fi. The hacker first switched on the fans, radio and wipers, before cutting the engine, taking control of the steering wheel and disabling the brakes. Though only a demo, we can’t help wondering how the average motorist would react if this happened to them while speeding along in the fast lane. (There is a video of this which might be good to include — the link is: https://thescene.com/watch/wired/hackers-wireless-jeep-attack-stranded-me-on-a-highway Not sure how easily this will be to embed?)

There are other risks and dangers too, like how easily the hacker could access your personal data through your smartphone, which will be synced up to your car’s Wi-Fi. And there’s the potential for criminals to gain access to parked cars by hacking into the locking system, which could potentially lead to a rise in the number of car thefts.

car cybercrime

The Solution

All this might sound scary, but car manufacturers are doing all they can to combat the risk of cybercrime and let drivers enjoy these enhanced features without fearing that a criminal is about to hijack their car.

Just last month, details emerged of Britain’s first ‘hack-proof’ car, which has been specifically designed to prevent criminals accessing internet-enabled technology within the vehicle.

The system was developed by British technology firm, Frazer-Nash Research, and has been installed on an Ecomotive Metrocab in London. It uses banking-style security technology, including multiple firewalls and unique data keys, to block incoming cyber attacks, and Frazer-Nash say it should make the car “almost impossible” to hack.

According to Greg Starns, executive director of software development at Frazer-Nash, the system uses three separate security features to protect the car from cybercrime.

self driveing electronic computer car on road, 3d illustrationThe first level is a physical security key, which must be synced to the vehicle’s software systems and reprogrammed to become a unique security code.

The second layer of security comes in the form of separate internal computers, each protected by its own firewall. This makes it impossible for cyber intruders to gain complete control of the car at any one time.

The third and final security feature is a triple-lock authentication system, similar to those used by banks to protect online banking accounts. The driver will be required to input information, such as a fingerprint scan or code, each time they switch on the car’s ignition.

While Frazer-Nash’s security system is a great step forward in protecting drivers from the risks of cybercrime, the firm does admit that there is still work to do to make connected cars completely safe.

Mr Starns said: “It is impossible to make a system 100% secure, but the more layers [of security] you have the more difficult you make it.”

No one yet knows just how big a problem cybercrime will be in the new age of connected cars, but it’s reassuring to know that car manufacturers and security teams are already working on ways to combat the problem, making internet-enabled cars safer for everyone.

Until connected cars become the norm, the best way to protect your pride and joy is with Holts. Our DIY products are designed to get you from A to B without a hitch, so you can enjoy peace of mind behind the wheel. For more information, visit the Holts homepage.