• Aug 14th 2010 at 12:00AM
  • 97
Basic System

As our cars become more technologically advanced, they leave the door open for vulnerabilities. Latest in the technological flawbook appears to be tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), revealing just how small that hole needs to be in order for a tech savvy thief to crawl through.

A group of researchers from Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina discovered that you can hack into a car's electronics wirelessly though tire systems, which means any modern vehicle could be vulnerable to an attack at any time, even while it's being driven down the road.

In their study, researchers used a car's tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) as their entry portal. Tire pressure monitoring has been mandatory on new cars since 2008 and uses a sensor on each wheel that transmits data over radio frequencies to a vehicle's electronic control unit.

By sniffing for signals from the TPMS, these researchers were able to track two different vehicles and even interfere with the signals. At this point, the real world implications are limited because TPMS sensors have a very short range and update the car's ECU only every 60-90 seconds. However, these findings underscore how as vehicles get more wireless connectivity, it's important to ensure those wireless connections are secure and encrypted to prevent mischief.

Over the last few years, other vulnerabilities have been found in vehicles. While most of these aren't cause for concern today, they nevertheless point out that that technological advancement comes with compromises.

- Geo-location: Cars with onboard navigation systems are in a never-ending conversation with the sky above. Acting as a unique signal with a series of satellites, your vehicle essentially has its own "mailing address." Locating that address by compromising the satellite network could reveal your location to someone who wanted to find out where you were traveling. What's at stake: your location.

- "Home button" robberies: Related to navigation systems, there have been reports that thieves target vehicles with navigation systems and garage door openers visible. The thinking is that if a thief can get access to your navigation system, he can press the home button (which most drivers program to their real home address) and then use the garage door opener to get inside. What's at stake: Your car and potentially your home.

- Physical Access to the car's brain: In an earlier report, our Craig Howie reported on the dangers of allowing someone access to the OBD-II port of a vehicle, which is the access point for the car's brain. "Someone -- such as a mechanic, a valet, a person who rents a car, an ex-friend, a disgruntled family member, or the car owner -- can, with even momentary access to the vehicle, insert a malicious component into a car’s internal network via the ubiquitous OBD-II port (typically under the dash). The attacker may leave the malicious component permanently attached to the car’s internal network or, as we show in this paper, they may use a brief period of connectivity to embed the malware within the car’s existing components and then disconnect." What's at stake: A lot. Access to the all the vehicle systems can be found here, which means everything from accelerator to brakes.

- "GPS Jammers" Allow Thieves A Getaway: The super technologically advanced thief is looking a few steps ahead. Knowing that many cars come with GPS systems, onboard tracking systems such as OnStar and other theft devices, there have been reports that thieves are buying GPS jammers from China. These systems essentially block the car's own GPS signal, preventing the law from locating the car. What's at stake: the safe return of your car.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      "m239mldgtx Aug 15, 2010 1:24 AM Nothing personal Calhounrules.....Do you drive a ford and live in a double wide, you are to trusting.." So, are you suggesting that people who live in double wides and drive inexpensive vehicles are the type of person who basically trusts his fellow man to be decent and do the right things ? And, therefore, that those who have large, expensive houses and cars are basically bastards and thieves who can't be trusted with a burnt match ? You may actually be on to something..
      • 8 Months Ago
      I have a 1968 Plymouth GTX, 440 Big Block, nice a snug in my garage. Computer chip? Hack thru my tires? Get my garage door opener? Crap my protection for this baby is a 44 Cal black powder and ball Pistol, hack into that Hackers...My policy is keep it safe and be willing to die for it. You got the balls to try and steal it then bring it on...I need the exercise. Semper Fi....
      • 8 Months Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      I have 1996 suv I had a blowout at 65 miles an hour. I never lost control like the mechanic who changed and replaced my truck tire. I did not lose control like the mechanic thought. IF fact I was alerted by passerbys that I should stop! My flat occurred in my left rear tire and due to the extreme difference in the weight of the front axle and the back axle; I did not loose control of my truck. I think the tire pressure monitor system is a complete waste of money. I think if I had a low pressure in my tires I will notice immediately , I do not need any electronic do-dads, tell me my tire pressure is too low! I use a tire pressure gauge.
      • 8 Months Ago
      The Gov't Should Monitor this Situation as they Bailed-Out Automakers and gave Cash for Clunkers- I Feel they could Disable a Vehicle to have the Owner or User Spend Extra Money on Unnecessary Repairs and Disable and Strand A Person for Intentional Targeted Reasons!
      • 8 Months Ago
      Is there some way they could spoof the CPU into thinking the tires were too low to be driven? Would that make the car slow to a stop?? Can the tires be electronically cued to loose air? If not, maybe this headline is just a misleading way to get you to read the ads on this page. They're selling fear. Are you buying? (again?)
      • 8 Months Ago
      Hey, Sam Abuelsamid, do you even KNOW how GPS works? GPS is a receiver -- there is not "conversation with the sky above". A GPS unit knows where it is, the satellites DO NOT know where you are, nor could they possibly track the millions upon millions of GPS receivers out there. So the GPS unit will know where IT is -- and the thief will also know, because... you know, he sees your car. OnStar uses GPS to get your location, but OnStar and GPS are NOT the same thing. Home Button robberies are interesting. Maybe I'm the only one, but the interior door between my garage and my house is ALWAYS locked, and the house is alarmed when nobody is in. The alarm is also programmed to activate if one of the garage doors is opened and the code not cleared within five minutes. It just makes sense. Additionally, I have a pin-code on my GPS unit. You clearly have no clue when you identify OBD-II as a potential issue. Most cars nowadays have two networks. There's a high-speed network which handles the drive-train (engine, transmission, wheel-sensors, steering inputs), and then there's a low-speed network which handles convenience features like seat-positioning, automatic mirrors, power locks and windows, etc. OBD-II is a DIAGNOSTIC port -- it can be used to READ OUT all sorts of information while the car is running, as well as past diagnostic information ("diagnostic codes"). It can be used to program certain feature codes, but there is no such thing as downloadable software, or interference with safety features such as brakes. That is a criminally stupid thing to say, and obviously the author of this article did ZERO fact-checking. Even a simple google search would have allowed you to understand this, sammy-boy. Lastly, the original topic of the article -- using TPMS to "hack" a car is equally preposterous. 90% of all installed TPMS systems are off-the-shelf, turn-key systems with virtually no integration into the rest of the car's electronics (other than the connection to the power-bus). You might "hack" it, and as a result show incorrect information on the car's dash -- but to what end? Confuse drivers? You can't get into the car, and most drivers are so unfamiliar with the TPMS that they probably don't even recognize the information it displays when the warning light comes on. To argue that you can "hack" a TPMS system is akin to saying that you can "hack" your neighbor's TV, because yours is the same brand, so your remote works. What's the big deal?
      • 8 Months Ago
      Before this article was written, no thief out there had any idea of how to gain entry through tire monitering systems and so forth, now they do! They probably never heard or thought about it!
      • 8 Months Ago
      wagon53, not arguing with you but fyi a lot of newer cars are coming with fully electric steering systems. both my 2005 saturn ion and 2010 ford escape have fully electric systems. no more steering pump.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I owed a 1968 Pontiac GTO pushing 400 hp+ when I was kid and it would out perform anything on the road today, with the exception of some very high priced super performing freaks, and it did it all without all of this high tech crap. It cost alot less to maintain and I could do a complete overhaul in 3-4 days in my garage. Now days it would take me that long to figure out how to change my oil. I would take that GTO back in a heartbeat.
      • 8 Months Ago
      smendenhall23, oh man, you didnt have to go with the old ass thing. What is your culture? you wish you know what I know and maybe someday you will. Your for sure very young and simple minded. If what i posted was a whine your very simple or maybe you fear me. I will step into your simple world and call you as I read you, punk with no ass. You could not stand next to me or match how smart i am, you fear guys like me, why? we teach you young guys, i bet your a rice burner builder, not bashing rice cars. How many pro stocks have you built, how many blowers have you set up, how many top fuel clutches have you set up? see where im going with this? feel the fear yet little man? i learned most if not all from my elders and respected them even if I thought they may be wrong but you young guns, not all of you, but a few such as yourself will self emplode into a pile of s$%t in short time because you THINK you can reinvent the wheel, your very short term in the way you think. It could be the people you hang with or maybe where you live but wake up and learn from everyone who has something to offer, young or old. just grow up and be a real man. Women look for that in a man and you have some ways to go, but you will get there, im sure, your not a dumb person you just dont take time to think.
      • 8 Months Ago
      By using new and advance technology last few years, other vulnerabilities have been found in vehicles. And it's very true they nevertheless point out that that technological advancement comes with compromises. http://www.newcars.indiandrives.com
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X