Forbes reports that by the year 2020, there will be 152 million connected cars worldwide. Connected vehicles transmit wireless signals and radio waves, making them susceptible to thieves who can, among other things, hack into a car’s electronic ignition and steal the vehicle. They can also remotely take control of the vehicle away from its owner while driving, which can lead to a potentially dangerous situation out on the road.
Mercury Insurance recently connected with cybersecurity expert Craig Smith to learn how consumers can protect their vehicles against cyberattacks. The author of “The Car Hacker’s Handbook,” shared the following tips:
- Remove dongles when the vehicle isn’t in operation. A dongle is a small device that plugs into the on-board diagnostics port under a car’s dashboard and can be used to monitor driving habits and a vehicle’s performance. Some companies offer apps that connect to them via Bluetooth to monitor driving habits that can help improve gas mileage or measure the miles you drive to set accurate insurance rates. Consumers who wish to use a dongle in their vehicles should try to use it sparingly and take it out of the car when it isn’t being driven.
Note: Since these devices can increase the risk of a cyberattack, Mercury doesn’t use this technology to monitor our customers’ driving habits.
- Lock key fobs in a metal drawer or refrigerator. Cybercriminals can break into a vehicle to steal its contents by intercepting the key fob signal to open the vehicle, then tricking the vehicle into thinking the owner’s electronic key fob is closer than it really is. This type of attack involves amplifying the key fob’s signature and is mainly a concern when vehicles are parked on the street.
Placing keys in a metal drawer or refrigerator at night can help protect against this kind of hacking activity by blocking out or reducing the signal of the keys so that they aren’t transmitting when not in use. Parking in a well-let area will also help if you don’t have access to a garage.
- Disable in-car wireless services. Remote hackers will look for vulnerabilities in a device that is capable of wireless communications that transmit through cellular or radio waves, such as Wi-Fi.Wireless systems like telematics, satellite or digital radio, internet, Bluetooth or wireless key fobs can provide entry points for attackers. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see what features the vehicle has and then decide which wireless systems are important and only enable those options. The other systems should be disabled.
- Visit your service department if you suspect you’ve been hacked. There are no pre-determined signs if a vehicle has been hacked, so if your vehicle is performing strangely, take it into the dealership to discuss the problem. It could just be a normal configuration problem or a bug in the particular software version the car’s computer is using.