Hacking of vehicles by cybercriminals poses major problems

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COLORADO SPRINGS – We face cybersecurity threats to our devices and online accounts every day, but hackers have now set their sites on something that could be even more dangerous, our cars.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are working to better understand these threats and are sharing some of what they do know.

“They can control all the main functions of the vehicle. So they can control your door locks, they can control your acceleration, your breaks, your turns,” said assistant professor of computer science at UCCS, Dr Gedare. Bloom.

With funding from the National Science Foundation and the State of Colorado, Dr. Bloom and his team are on a mission to better understand these cyber attacks.

“So this is absolutely a national security issue. We rely on vehicles for everything. They are critical infrastructure,” Dr Bloom said. And these hacks are already happening. An Upstream Security Global Automotive Cybersecurity report analyzed more than 200 cyber incidents in 2020.

The report found in one case that a hacker had taken control of an entire fleet of connected vehicles by exploiting a vulnerability. According to research, there was a 99% increase in cyber incidents in 2019 and a 94% year-over-year increase from 2016.

“So we saw the Colonial Pipeline where the attackers destroyed infrastructure,” Dr Bloom said. “So if an attacker can shoot down a model of vehicle across the country simultaneously, he has enormous leverage to extort money from the maker of that particular model.”

Also, a hack into a trucking company would be a disaster when combined with a labor shortage and supply chain issues. “A semi-truck carrying a load of freight is probably as valuable as anything a cybercriminal can capture,” said Dr Bloom.

Experts say any connected vehicle could be hacked, but newer vehicles with modern technology are the ones researchers are working on to improve security measures.

“Modern vehicles that connect through 5G, cellular connections or even through internet infrastructure,” said Dr Bloom.

So if you’re looking to buy a new car, researchers say it’s important to prioritize cybersecurity when making your decision. “We all know that automakers are held to high safety standards, we also need to understand if they hold themselves accountable for safety standards,” Dr Bloom said.

Training cybersecurity experts in places like UCCS will be so important to this cyber battle. Ethical “white hat” hackers must hack our next generation of cars to help expose problems before the bad actors find them.


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