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7 cyber threats for smart cars

By David Lukić

Oct 4, 2020

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Technology has made it easier for mechanics to identify and detect issues with vehicles. In fact, current trends are toward making a car completely autonomous so that a human driver does not need to be behind the wheel. While technology offers promise and opportunity, it can also sometimes pose a danger when hackers take advantage of it to control the vehicle. Here is what you need to know about the top threats for smart cars.

Remote hacking

Cybersecurity statistics show that one of the biggest consumer concerns about smart cars is privacy and whether the vehicle can be hacked. Researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek were able to remotely gain access to the electronic systems of a Jeep Cherokee simply by knowing the IP address of the vehicle, which was public. Anyone with an internet connection could gain control over some of the functions of the vehicle if they just use a lookup smart car and input the vehicle’s VIN.

Installation of malware

Hackers who can gain access to a smart car’s onboard computer may be able to install infected apps, malware, and other security threats that input malicious code and allow the hacker access to the vehicle’s entire system. Hackers were able to infiltrate the Jeep Cherokee by accessing its infotainment system. Other hackers were able to insert a USB flash drive into a vehicle’s dashboard. Researchers were able to find the same vulnerability in Volkswagen and Audi smart cars. A team of researchers from New York University Tandon School of Engineering and George Mason University have identified security flaws in some of these systems that allow hackers to exploit these vulnerabilities and override the vehicle’s safety features.

Once a hacker cracks into a vehicle’s computer system, they may be able to install malware that can wreak havoc on the vehicle. If this happens, the hacker may be able to access an owner’s personal information. Additionally, they may also be able to alter alert systems such as if tire pressure is low or emergency brake sensory systems have problems, which could result in the driver getting in an accident or even dying.

Insecure apps

Researchers also found that mobile apps that are connected to smart cars may make smart cars more vulnerable to hackers. Researchers made startling findings, including that the studied apps:

– Contained little or no code to prevent the electronic unlocking of doors.

– Did not encrypt username and password credentials.

– Allows smart cars to be potentially compromised if mobile Trojans were used through the apps.

Researchers also found a security flaw in a popular electric scooter that connects a mobile app through Bluetooth that would allow a hacker 100 meters away to send commands to the scooter through the app without even needing a password.

Data gathering vulnerability

Sometimes, hackers may be able to obtain access to a vehicle if the manufacturer uses a third-party backend service to gather data or save data over the cloud.

Backdoor access

The use of mobile phones has increased dramatically and that poses a serious cybersecurity threat to individuals and businesses. Mobile phones tend to have fewer security features used on them, so a person with a vulnerable phone who connects it to their smart car may grant backdoor access to a hacker from their phone. This is especially true for Android users who may download insecure apps.

Installation of illegal diagnostic firmware

Another cybersecurity concern arises if a person installs an illegal firmware programme to help diagnose their vehicle’s mechanical problems or to reset the mileage on a car. Hackers may use a Trojan through this firmware to gain access to the smart car’s computer system.

Smart alarm hack

Researchers identified critical cybersecurity vulnerabilities in two of the world’s largest models of smart alarm systems which affected 3 million vehicles. Hackers were able to conduct penetration testing to detect the vulnerability, which allowed hackers to exploit the smart car’s alarm system. This allowed them to unlock the car and gain private information about the owner.

How to protect vehicles from cybersecurity threats

Today’s vehicles rely on technology now more than ever before. Apart from technical testing, checking for third-party interference may become part of your routine inspection in the coming years, especially if you are purchasing a used car.

It is important to understand how these attacks can occur so that you can fix them. Fortunately, there are several ways that you may be able to protect your customers’ vehicles (and your own) from cybersecurity risks, including:

Update software and firmware

Just like with phones, smart car systems may need to be occasionally updated. Many of these updates include security patches to fix discovered vulnerabilities. You can check for updates online by looking up the smart car make and model. You should also sign up for manufacturer updates so you are automatically notified when they report issues and updates.

Be careful with the apps you install

Consider every app you install in your car as a potential source of malicious code, viruses, or malware. Only use official apps from legitimate sources to prevent possible attacks.

Don’t install illegal firmware

Avoid installing illegal firmware or aftermarket accessories.

Install antivirus software

Help your customers avoid potential issues by installing antivirus software that can scan for malware and other issues.

Secure wi-fi

Make sure that the car owner has a secure wi-fi connection, is not using default passwords, and has not given out passwords to the vehicle’s wi-fi.

Check for malware

It is possible that the car owner may have taken their vehicle to an untrustworthy mechanic before you, so check for malware or signs for it when inspecting the vehicle.

Deactivate services

If you can’t find the source of the problem, consider deactivating all connected services to cut off entry points.

7 cyber threats for smart cars


By David Lukić

Oct 4, 2020

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Good to know: 18-year-old astronaut Alyssa Carson’s mission to Mars

By Bianca Borissova

Aug 31, 2019

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It’s safe to say that humanity has pretty much always been obsessed with outer space. But it wasn’t until our technology developed that the possibility of venturing into space materialised and the Space Race as we know it was born. And while the last century saw the race for space as being predominantly a competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S. for who will be the first to set foot on the moon, the 21st century has seen a drastic shift from that. Today, space is turning into a playground for wealthy men eager to launch their satellites and rockets into orbit and, hopefully for them, land on the Moon, Mars, or any other planet for that matter.

Going to Mars has been in talks for a while, and now, with an official plan by NASA to send humans to the red planet by the early 2030s, who will be the first to travel into the unknown? Meet Alyssa Carson, an 18-year-old female astronaut who is breaking (literal) barriers on her planned mission to Mars, working toward this goal pretty much her entire life.

Screen Shot spoke to Carson about Mars, her involvement in the space industry, and the current state of the Space Race. “I was around 3 years old,” Carson says when asked when her fascination with Mars began. She claims she was inspired by Nickelodeon’s The Backyardigans ‘Mission to Mars’ episode, and has been dedicated to set foot on Mars ever since—becoming the first person in the world to finish all of NASA’s space camps, graduating high school, and receiving her pilot’s license, all by the age of 18.

Carson is also the youngest person to have ever been accepted to the Advanced Possum Academy in October 2016 when she was just 15-years-old, graduating and becoming certified to to go to space— also making her the world’s youngest astronaut in training. She has attended all of NASA’s 19 spacecamps and is the only person in the world who completed the NASA passport programme, having visited all sites. Hoping to go to space for the first time for a short research mission in the “next year or so,” Carson is now likely to be one of the first few people to go to Mars in the early 2030s.

“There are still a lot of challenges to overcome with this mission—there are the radiation levels, the simple idea of having food for 2-3 years, and getting back,” says Carson. In 2001, when NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft launched, it was equipped with a special radiation measuring device, called the Martian Radiation Experiment (aka the MARIE), and detected about 8,000 millirads per year, working out to 8 rads. For comparison, humans in the most developed countries on earth are exposed to around 0.62 rads per year. Prolonged exposure to the kind of levels detected on Mars could lead to all kinds of health problems, such as acute radiation sickness, cancer, genetic damage, and even death.

None of this stops Carson, as she stays positive and trusts that the industry will be able to come up with solutions to all these issues prior to her sailing off to Mars. “I feel in pretty good hands,” she says, believing that everyone working on making this mission a reality is immensely passionate and prioritise safety above all. And if they are even half as enthusiastic and determined as Carson herself, we can trust this to be the case.

This is an incredibly competitive industry, and Carson is not alone in her dream of traveling to outer space.“18,000 people will apply and only around 12 get selected”. When asked what it is like to be a young woman in this industry, Carson encourages to get more women on board, as well as create a more intersectional community within, including queer people as “it is lacking a bit in the space industry”—although she does mention that NASA aims to choose half-male, half-female astronauts.

Like most industries, we could do with more diversity, but the one thing we can not disregard is that there are a lot of incredible and inspiring women “empowering the space industry”, Carson being one of them. Yet, somehow, the mainstream media almost always ignores this and focuses its attention on men. When was the last time you’ve read an article or listened to a podcast about going to space which did not involve Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin? That is of course not to discredit the valuable work of both men or Musk’s remarkable scientific developments, but it is about time we include women in the conversation.

As for the future of the industry, Carson believes that “space will start booming”, space tourism will grow, and soon even ordinary civilians will be able to travel to outer space (although I wonder at what cost).

But is moving to another planet and starting over the solution to our many problems on Earth? “The reason why we are going to Mars is to offer the next level of stability—going to Mars will offer us more materials, more resources,”says Carson, who believes that relocating to outer space could ensure the survival of our species, as well as pave the way for rapid developments within science and technology, which naturally would improve lives both on Mars and on Earth.

But how do we make sure we don’t destroy Mars the exact same way in which we are destroying our own planet, slowly directing it into environmental doom? “The ultimate goal is to care for Mars,” says Carson. The idea of starting over is certainly appealing, but history does have a tendency to repeat itself, and we need to be very careful once we inhabit Mars or any other planet. Space is the place where you would have to reuse everything, as there is a limited amount of resources we can take from Earth to begin with.

There is also the challenge of figuring out how to transport an increasing amount of resources (after all, at the moment it does take 7 months to travel to Mars). So, hopefully, when we come to colonise Mars, we apply much more caution than we did to our own planet.

Until then, let’s keep celebrating women like Carson who keep pushing boundaries and improving the space industry for the better.

Good to know: 18-year-old astronaut Alyssa Carson’s mission to Mars


By Bianca Borissova

Aug 31, 2019

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