Trucks & SUVs

Report: Cyber Threats Mean No Tuning the Ford Bronco

What will the aftermarket do? For so many aftermarket companies the new Bronco is like discovering oil on your property. Ford is seeking out aftermarket manufacturers to see what they can come up with to enhance and personalize each and every Bronco. Except for chipmakers and tuners. They may be left out of the Bronco party because of cyber threats. Ford took extraordinary steps to beef up encryption and security to avoid hackers. That could mean no tuning the Ford Bronco.

Those turbocharged Bronco engines are ripe for squeezing hidden horsepower

Those turbocharged Bronco engines are ripe for squeezing hidden horsepower. But Ford wants to protect its software from security threats and generally messing up the complicated systems. Virtually every component communicates with every other component. It’s all interconnected. If any of those chains connecting every component are broken, the car won’t run. 

A view of the driver's side tube door for a 2021 Ford Bronco.
Bronco tube doors. | Ford Motor Company

And changing shift points or other seemingly harmless changes could affect the entire ECU. That’s why Ford must keep mods from being made. So what will the aftermarket do? With the ability to perform OTA updates Ford can’t let breaking into an ECU threaten their cybersecurity safeguards.

How is the security at the tuner you gave the keys to the entire OTA system?

If it allows companies to essentially break into Bronco ECUs how is the security at the tuner you gave the keys to the entire OTA system? “We have to walk carefully there because a lot of the systems interface with each other and the aftermarket doesn’t always think about those interfaces,” said Bronco Program Manager Jeff Seaman to Muscle Car and Truck. “We’re going to have to work with our strategic partners and make sure that they provide things to the customer that are certainly robust.”

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Ford’s Head of Icons Dave Pericak has already said Ford is working with the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association to find a solution to this problem. But at this point, no one knows what this actually is going to look like. “There’s a SEMA agreement where we authorize third parties to make engine calibrations and updates,” said Seaman. 

The rear of a gold and white 2021 Bronco looks race prepared.
The 2021 Saleen Big Oly Bronco | Saleen Automotive

Right now there really is no plan, just a vague agreement

“I think this is definitely an opportunity to explore as we go forward. We’ve got the OTA architecture in place for the Bronco, but how that works with third-party developers versus doing it in house and internal updates is still something to see how it will work.” So for right now there really is no plan, just a vague agreement to look into how it might work. 

What is hoped for is a list of requirements each tuner has to fulfill before work can begin handing over Ford’s Bronco ECU secrets. That might include how to secure the tuner’s computer system is from hacking. It might require logs to show who goes into the system and why. 

Once Ford is satisfied with the security and authorization around outside companies then it would open the ECU up. What it has to avoid is instead opening up a Pandora’s box of hackers and competitors getting access to Ford’s OTA system and ECU secrets.