What is “Car Hacking” and How Can it Be Stopped?

With the technological progress of modern cars comes a new type of crime: car hacking. If you drive a car that was made in the past several years, or even the last 20 years, your car could be vulnerable. The more technologically equipped your car is – AI, autonomous features, advanced safety capabilities – the greater the risk. Keep reading to learn more about car hacking and how you can prevent it from happening to you.

What Exactly is Car Hacking?


The idea of someone remotely accessing your vehicle probably sounds futuristic, but also incredibly scary. If you’ve ever seen the eighth movie of the Fast and Furious franchise, you may be surprised to learn that the car hacking in that movie is actually one of the more plausible scenes. Although it is done to an impossibly advanced level, it goes to show what may be possible in the future.

Car hacking, sometimes called automotive cybersecurity incidents, is when an unauthorized person accesses your vehicle’s software or hardware. Modern cars are full of computerized equipment connected to the internet, which makes them vulnerable to hackers. And although the more common and scary type of car hacking is done entirely remotely, if someone gained access to your car they could also physically hack it by plugging in a USB and gaining control.

It has actually been possible to hack into cars since the early 2000’s, but it hasn’t been too common until 2019 when incidents doubled from the year prior – a 605% increase. This number will only continue to grow as cars become more technologically advanced.

So, What Exactly Can Be Hacked Into?


Here are some of the aspects of a vehicle that can potentially be accessed by an unauthorized person.

  • Servers: A server is the computer system in modern cars, and if someone can break into your car’s server, they can access almost anything. Someone could also potentially hack into multiple vehicle servers, and control a whole fleet of cars. While this has never actually happened, it is possible, and large data security breaches have indeed happened.
  • Key FOBs: By cloning the signal that your FOB uses to communicate with your car, someone could gain entry to your car. If they have your keys, not only can they enter your vehicle but they can start it.
  • Smartphone Apps: Hackers have found it possible to hack into the mobile app associated with a vehicle, either by guessing weak passwords or by simply entering a car’s VIN. This allows access to a number of different controls and information.
  • Brakes, acceleration, steering: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hires hackers to help find potential security breaches, and some were able to hack into a Ford Escape and control the brakes and steering. This is one of the scarier possibilities, since it could lead to a serious car accident.
  • Diagnostics: Your car’s diagnostic system holds a lot of information and can be accessed either physically with a USB, or potential through WiFi or bluetooth.

Other things like wiper controls and tire pressure indicators can also be hacked, although it is harder to imagine why someone would want to access those controls.

Why Would Someone Hack Into My Car?


There are many reasons why someone may decide to hack into your car, and probably even more reasons will become aware as time goes on. Here are a few reasons why someone might try and access your vehicle.

To Steal Your Car or Valuables

Cars can be broken into using keyless entry, and the engine can be started too. If someone clones your FOB, they can steal your car. They could also just break inside and steal valuables within the vehicle.

To Get Your Business

If you give diagnostic access to a shady auto repair shop, they could manipulate it to make you think you need more repairs. For example, they could modify your car’s computer system to show that you’ve driven more miles than you actually have, ensuring that you’ll come back sooner for regular maintenance.

To Find You

By hacking into your car’s GPS system, someone could track down your location, even if you don’t want them to. They can also do what’s called “GPS spoofing”, where your GPS will show that you’re at a different location than you are. A hacker may do this to lure you into a dangerous situation.

To Hurt You

Someone who wishes you harm could hypothetically hack into your car’s controls – like the acceleration or steering – and cause a serious accident. Although this hasn’t happened before, it’s important to think of all potential scenarios so that we can prepare and protect ourselves.

How to Prevent Car Hacking


Ultimately, taking preventative measures to stop unauthorized remote access to your car is mainly the responsibility of manufacturers. Car makers can introduce security measures like encryption, two-factor authentication, and keeping important electronic systems separate.

However, there are a few precautions you can take:

  • Get a FOB protector. You can buy a signal-blocking pouch for your key FOB, or just use aluminum foil. Both will prevent a hacker from cloning your FOB.
  • Don’t program your home address in your car’s GPS system. If you program your address as “home” in your GPS, anyone who hacks into your car will automatically know where you live.
  • Use reputable auto repair shops. You shouldn’t have to worry too much about having your car’s diagnostics hacked, as long as you go to auto shops with a good reputation for honesty.
  • Keep your car’s software up to date. Having outdated software in your car can make it more vulnerable to attacks.
  • Use strong passwords. Make sure that a hacker won’t be able to easily guess the password to your car’s mobile app or WiFi hotspot.
  • Stay away from public WiFi. Don’t connect your car’s systems to public WiFi, because those networks are insecure and easily compromised.
  • Be careful with what you plug into your car. Third party devices that connect to your car’s USB port could be a security risk. Only use reputable devices approved by automakers.

While car hacking is not necessarily a major concern for most drivers at the moment, it will certainly become one in the future. As long as you stay informed and take proper precaution, you should be safe from hackers.

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