From carjack to carhack

As if you didn’t have enough things to worry about when you’re driving… researchers have demonstrated some rather worrying security holes that could allow an attacker to PWN your car’s onboard computer systems by spoofing the signals from the wireless tyre pressure sensors [via George Dvorsky]:

… previous experiments showed what could be done with a physical connection to a vehicle’s computer. The new work by teams from the University of South Carolina and Rutgers tried a different tack: spoofing the wireless sensors in wheels used by tire pressure monitoring systems, required in all new U.S. vehicles since 2008.

The researchers didn’t find a wide-open door so much as the security employed by a 1920s speakeasy: once they learned the secret knock, the unidentified test car’s controls let them in no questions asked. The team sent fake warning messages from 40 meters away, and in another experiment, got the test car to flash a warning that a tire had lost all pressure while beaming the signal from another car as both drove 68 mph.

Because each sensor uses a unique ID tag, it was also possible to track specific vehicles, in a way that would be far less noticeable than roadside cameras.

The hacked car usually reset its warnings after the spoofed messages stopped. But after two days of tests, the electronic control unit for the tire monitors fell off its twig and had to be replaced by a dealer. The researchers note that it took several hours of graduate-level engineering to devise their tools and crack into the monitors, but that the actual technology for doing so cost about $1,500.

Buying off-the-shelf kits to accomplish this sort of hack will be as easy as buying an ATM credit card skimmer or a few hours of run-time on a botnet; it’s just chips and code, after all. And now, would the congregation please join with me in chanting the votive mantra of Futurismic: Everything Can And Will Be Hacked.