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Why Hi-tech Cars Are Easy Target to Modern Thieves

Recent developments and research finding have revealed that what should make modern, sophisticated automobiles more secured has turned out to what make them more vulnerable to car thieves. Have manufacturers of affected automobiles done enough to help the situation? FEMI OWOEYE finds out.

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost operations of modern automobiles have gone computerized. Some are even controlled electronically via satellite. Automobile manufacturers went that far to enhance functionality, comfort, safety and security. Immobilizers are, for instance, installed to shut down engine and prevent the car from being driven off by members of the light finger fraternity.

2014 Jeep Cherokee: Most Vulnerable modern car
2014 Jeep Cherokee: Most Vulnerable modern car

However, recent indications have showed that what was all the while regarded as technological progress might have become undoing for modern cars, which are gradually becoming less secured. To dispossess owners of their priced auto machines, all car thieves need do is acquire knowledge of computer programming and ability to crack computer codes.

For instance, in recent times, the automotive industry has recorded a string of security flaws, including the Ownstar hack, the Tesla S debacle, the text message takeover trick and the infamous highway Jeep attack that saw 1.4 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles recalled.

As contained in a research released recently, the Megamos immobilizers system used by over 20 auto makers around the world can easily be cracked.

Worst, certain auto manufacturers had been aware of the flaw two years ago (2013), but did nothing about it. Instead, Volkswagen and European Defence contractor reportedly took legal action to prevent the researchers from publishing the finding.

The Research Finding

The research team from Holland’s Radbound University found that car thieves can easily intercept the radio signal from the key fob to the car alarm. The team tested their theory by eavesdropping on the data transmissions between the fob and the security system and, within 30 minutes, succeeded in figuring out which cryptographic key would unlock the system’s encryption and disable the immobilizer.

“This is a serious flaw, and it’s not very easy to quickly correct”, Tim Watson, Director of Cyber Security at the University of Warwick, explaining to Bloomberg Business. “It is not a theoretical weakness, it’s an actual one and it doesn’t cost theoretical dollars to fix, it costs actual dollars.”

What Hackers Are capable of Doing

In an exclusive interview with Motoring World at the weekend, Mr Joshua Nwabineli, Managing Director, Joshnelly Technologies Limited, a Nigeria-based Information and Communication Technology(ICT) company, revealed that one major strategies of car hackers is to send virus into a car to shut down its security operation.

“They can send virus to the car’s software to exploit the system, manipulate it,” he pointed out. “Remember, there are a number of controls in the modern cars, which are software-oriented. Some even send and receive information via satellite.

electronic keys like this can be cloned by criminals
electronic keys like this can be cloned by criminals

Joshua Nwabineli:MD/CEO Joshnelly Technologies Ltd
Joshua Nwabineli:MD/CEO Joshnelly Technologies Limited

“I’ll give you an example. There was a time certain group wanted to prevent Iran’s nuclear programme, and all they did was send virus to their system to disorganize it. They can do same to shut down software operation in an automobile or even an aircraft.

“All that the criminals do is to tap into the signal that goes out of the car. For instance, when you lock or unlock your car remotely, there is a signal that goes from the remote key fob into to software in the car. A criminal who succeeds in tapping into that signal, can easily disable the car’s immobilizer.

“More than that, there are car software controls that are linked to internet and send or receive signals via satellite. All of these have made automobiles vulnerable to sophisticated automobile thieves.”

Is there any way modern car owners can get help from IT experts to prevent criminals from hacking into their modern automobiles?

Mr. Nwabineli answered: “NO. There is nothing an independent IT expert can legally do. Car software is not generic. If the car maker does not create a room for software experts, there is nothing he or she can do, unless tries hacking into the system, which is not appropriate. The right people to sort the problem out are the manufacturers.

2014 BMW X3, easy targets to light finger fraternity
2014 BMW X3 : Easy target to light finger fraternity

“What a concerned owner should do is seek help from car’s franchise dealer, who is also in contact with manufacturer. But before taking any step, it is advisable for owner to search internet for information about his or her car security so that he can have informed discussion with the car dealer.

“On the part of auto manufacturers, what they should do is use powerful anti-virus and encryption such that information to and from a car’s software would be able to travel in such a way that somebody would not be able to tap into it.”

But the research team from Holland’s Radbound University said they had been in contact with a number of the affected manufacturers about patching the flaw, but recon the problem would be difficult to resolve, because, according to them, it would involve swapping out the physical chip in the fob for more securely designed one, which could be lots expensive.

Below is a list of the worst and least hackable cars, as contained in the Researchers’ Finding and Published in a Recent Edition of Daily Mail

2014 Jeep Cherokee ++ ++ ++
2015 Cadillac Escalade ++ + +
2014 Ford Fusion ++ ++
2014 Dodge Ram 3500 ++ ++
2014 BMW X3 ++ ++
2014 Chrysler 300 ++ ++
2014 Range Rover Evoque ++ ++
2014 Toyota Prius + + ++
2010 Toyota Prius + + ++
2014 Infiniti Q50 ++ + +
2014 Audi A8 ++ +
2010 Infiniti G37 ++ +
2014 BMW 3 Series ++ +
2014 BMW i12 ++
2014 Dodge Viper ++ +
2014 Honda Accord LX +
2010 Range Rover Sport
2006 Range Rover Sport
2006 Toyota Prius
2006 Ford Fusion


Worst Hack-able Cars by Attack Surface: The following automobiles meet this criterion, because they are easiest to hack into and driven away by car thieves, using their Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mobile network connections, key fobs and tyre pressure indicator.

1 2014 Jeep Cherokee
2 2015 Cadillac Escalade
3 2014 Ford Fusion
4 2014 BMW X3
5 2014 Chrysler 300
6 2014 Range Rover Evoque
7 2014 Infiniti Q50
8 2014 Audi A8
9 2014 BMW 3 Series
10 2014 BMW i12

Worst Hackable Cars via Cyber Physical: Cars under this category are equipped with such capabilities as automated braking and parking sensors, which car thieves could take control of, using wireless commands.

1 2014 Jeep Cherokee
2 2014 Ford Fusion
3 2014 BMW X3
4 2014 Chrysler 300
5 2014 Range Rover Evoque
6 2014 Toyota Prius
7 2010 Toyota Prius

Worst Hackable Cars via Network Architecture: Cars under this category are equipped with features, which gives much access to parts as horn, steering and brakes. Sophisticated car thieves can easily tap into them and disable the system.

1 2014 Jeep Cherokee
2 2015 Cadillac Escalade
3 2014 Dodge Ram 3500
4 2014 Infiniti Q50
5 2010 Infiniti G37

Five Least Likely Hackable Cars

1 2014 Honda Accord LX
2 2010 Range Rover Sport
3 2006 Range Rover Sport
4 2006 Toyota Prius
5 2006 Ford Fusion


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