Researchers: Hackers Can Access and Control Cars' Anti-Theft Systems

Photo: Jaimie Duplass

Security systems in cars are now vulnerable to hackers, according to researchers.

Don Bailey and Mat Solnik, researchers from security firm iSec Partners, found recently that a car’s doors can be forced to unlock and its engine can be tricked to start without a key, simply by sending a text message sent to the car’s anti-theft system. They demonstrated the attack on a Subaru Outback during this month’s Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, using a laptop to send their messages and break into the vehicle.

According to Associated Press, car alarms, GPS systems and other devices are increasingly connected to cellular telephone networks and thus can receive commands through text messaging. That capability allows owners to change settings on devices remotely, but it also gives hackers a way in.

The researchers found that the security devices in cars act similar to fax machines in that it has a particular number attached to a device, such as OnStar. Hackers can obtain these numbers and infiltrate the confidential information that controls a car’s system.

They also found vulnerabilities on other devices that use wireless communications chips — such as ATMs, medical devices and even traffic lights.

“We’re so excited to use technology that we’re deploying it too quickly and not really thinking about the impact of security,” said Bailey.

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