Is Your Car Vulnerable to Computer Hackers?

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The use of computers in personal automobiles has come a long way, transforming vehicles from purely mechanical machines to complex, software-driven systems. As technology advances, we can expect further innovations in the automotive industry, including the continued development of autonomous cars and more advanced safety and infotainment features.

Along with the benefits of computerization of your automobile systems, there are a number of associated cybersecurity risks. These risks have grown as vehicles have become more computerized and connected.

History of Computers in Automobiles

Before we get into the specifics of cybersecurity risks and preventative measures, it is interesting to review the history of the development of computer systems for automobiles.  The history of using computers in personal automobiles is a fascinating journey that has evolved significantly over the years.

Here is a brief overview of key milestones:

  1. Early Engine Control: The use of computers in cars began in the 1960s, primarily for engine control and emissions monitoring. These early systems were relatively simple and aimed at improving engine performance and reducing pollution.
  2. Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI): In the 1980s, EFI systems became more prevalent. These systems used sensors and computers to manage the air-fuel mixture, improving fuel efficiency and emissions control.
  3. On-Board Diagnostics (OBD): In the 1980s and early 1990s, OBD systems started appearing in cars. They used computers to monitor and diagnose engine problems, making it easier for mechanics to identify issues.
  4. Infotainment Systems: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, car manufacturers began incorporating computers for infotainment systems. These systems provided in-car navigation, audio control, and later, smartphone integration.
  5. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS): Over the past decade, vehicles have seen a significant increase in the use of computers for ADAS. These systems include features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, and collision avoidance, all made possible through sensors and onboard computers.
  6. Autonomous Vehicles: Autonomous or self-driving cars are the next frontier. These vehicles rely heavily on advanced computer systems, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, to navigate and make decisions without human intervention.
  7. Connected Cars: Modern vehicles are increasingly connected to the internet, enabling features like remote diagnostics, over-the-air software updates, and enhanced entertainment options.
  8. Electric Vehicles (EVs): Electric cars rely on sophisticated computer systems to manage battery power, charging, and energy efficiency.

Cybersecurity Concerns

Cybersecurity risks associated with personal automobiles have become increasingly prominent with the growing integration of computer systems and connectivity in modern vehicles. Here are some common risks and preventative methods:

Scary Scenario

Can you imagine a scenario where you are driving and, independently, the doors get locked and the car speeds up – then you get a message from a hacker asking for an immediate electronic payment to avoid a crash? Increasingly, such a scary scenario is possible.

Cybersecurity Risks:

  1. Hacking and Unauthorized Access: Hackers may gain unauthorized access to a vehicle’s computer systems, potentially taking control of critical functions like steering, brakes, and acceleration.
  2. Data Privacy: Personal information, such as location data and driving habits, may be vulnerable to unauthorized access or data breaches.
  3. Software Vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities in the vehicle’s software can be exploited by malicious actors, leading to system malfunctions or unauthorized control.
  4. Remote Attacks: Attackers could target vehicles remotely through wireless connections, potentially affecting safety-critical systems. Electric vehicle charging station-related breaches accounted for four percent of cyberattacks on connected cars in 2022, according to an Upstream report.
  5. Malware and Ransomware: Vehicles may be infected with malware or ransomware, leading to disruptions, data theft, or demands for payment to restore vehicle functionality.


Cybersecurity Preventative Methods:

  1. Regular Software Updates: Manufacturers should provide regular over-the-air software updates to patch vulnerabilities and improve cybersecurity.
  2. Intrusion Detection Systems: Implement intrusion detection systems that can monitor for unauthorized access and anomalies in the vehicle’s network.
  3. Secure Communication Protocols: Use secure communication protocols to protect data transmitted between the vehicle and external systems.
  4. Strong Authentication: Implement strong authentication methods for access to critical vehicle functions and data.
  5. Firewalls and Access Control: Use firewalls and access control mechanisms to restrict access to the vehicle’s network.
  6. Data Encryption: Ensure that sensitive data is encrypted both in transit and at rest to protect against unauthorized access.
  7. Secure Boot Processes: Implement secure boot processes to ensure the integrity of the vehicle’s software during startup.
  8. Cybersecurity Testing: Conduct comprehensive cybersecurity testing, including penetration testing, to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
  9. User Education: Educate vehicle owners about best practices for cybersecurity, such as not connecting to untrusted Wi-Fi networks and being cautious with third-party apps.
  10. Regulatory Compliance: Comply with relevant cybersecurity regulations and standards, including regulations for cybersecurity and software updates in vehicles.


The integration of advanced computer systems and connectivity in automobiles offers many benefits, but it also introduces new cybersecurity challenges. Manufacturers, regulators, and consumers must work together to ensure that vehicles are safe from cyber threats and that protective measures are continuously updated to address evolving risks.

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