The latest car technology allows drivers to do impressive things. On a bitterly cold morning, owners can start the engine and turn on the heat so the interior is warm when you get behind the wheel. If your hands are full, a swipe of the foot can open the back. When you need to stay connected for work or personal reasons, calls and texts can be fielded without glancing at your phone.
These advances have changed the way people interact with vehicles, but there is a dark side to the equation. Mojo Motors recently took a look at how each of these useful tech innovations can go very wrong in the hands of hackers. We took each type of hacking Mojo pointed out and thought of the worst-case scenario. Here are 10 dangerous ways hackers could control your car.
Turning off the headlights
Turning on someone’s headlights might be a funny trick for pranksters to pull off when a car is in the driveway, but the implications are terrifying if a hacker with evil intent cut the lights when you were driving on a dark, winding road. GPS tracking would allows the same hacker to time the lights-off trick for the worst possible moment.
Turning the engine on or off
A prankster may get someone’s goat by turning a car on remotely (to waste gas or turn on air conditioning in the winter), but it becomes an extremely dangerous tool in the wrong hands. Losing power in speeding highway traffic could be deadly for a car’s occupants. Hackers could feasibly do such a thing when getting control of a car’s engine through the operating system. Loss of power is currently why GM is currently on the hook for 30 fatal accidents, though that was due to a hardware malfunction.
The same controls that allow cars to parallel park on their own can be manipulated to devious effect. Mojo points out how hackers can take control of a car’s steering by getting into a car’s operating system. With the ability to steer your car the wrong way, hackers would have car occupants at their mercy. As the industry moves closer to cars operating on auto-pilot, these dangers must be addressed.
False speed or gauge readings
Speed and other display information is delivered electronically, which means it can be manipulated by hackers to post false readings on the car’s dash. Posting “79 mph” on the display when a car is actually traveling at a speed of 58 miles per hour would cause most drivers to apply the brakes — especially if a police car is waiting ahead at a divider. Meanwhile, a car behind you driving around 55 miles per hour would suddenly be right on your tail — or in your backseat.
Opening and closing windows
Mojo would put the ability to lower and raise windows in the category of “troll hacks,” but there are several situations when window controls lead to danger. Imagine a smoker having the windows closed and the doors locked after lighting up a cigarette, or a driver who steps out of the car for a moment finds the windows all the way down. If you travel with a pet or child in the car, the dangers are also easy to imagine.
Traction and stability control
Electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control are two features that save lives. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), ESC cuts the risk of a single-vehicle crash becoming fatal in half. In the event a car has to suddenly swerve or brake, these controls sense which wheels should receive more stopping force than the others, allowing a vehicle to maintain its stability. Were ESC or traction control disabled, the car would become subtly more dangerous.
Unlocking the doors and trunk
For thieves who want access to your car, hacking into the keyless entry system will do the trick so they can take whatever is inside. This same feature becomes dangerous when you and other occupants are inside the car. As with every other tech convenience on this list, remote unlocking devices can take a scary turn in the wrong hands.
Listening to conversations
There are already enough concerns about who is listening to phone conversations. Hackers who get into a car’s operating system have the opportunity to listen the conversations you are having with Bluetooth enabled. If they didn’t already know where you were headed or what your most private conversations entailed, they would now be privy to that and anything else you reveal while on the phone.
GPS is an extremely useful tool for drivers finding their way to destinations, but it also gives an interested hacker the opportunity to know where you are at any time. Hackers would have the opportunity to know where you are going, where you have been, and what time you will be arriving at another destination when getting a hold of your location information. The possibilities for criminals are endless.
Text message hacks
People send passwords and other sensitive information in text messages, so it would not be out of the ordinary if a family member sent you a request for something on your phone. But what if a hacker actually sent the message? When you reply with the information, the hacker gets access to your potentially valuable information. What follows could be identity theft, stolen funds, or worse.