Is Car Hacking Possible? The FBI And NHTSA Say Yes

Can your modern vehicle get hacked? Could your brakes suddenly become disabled or could your engine shutdown? Yes, says The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Highway Traffic Safety. This is such a serious threat that the FBI and NHTSA have issued a stern warning that all modern vehicles are “vulnerable” to hacking.

This blanket warning was not meant for any one particular car model or recall, but to warn all consumers that new vehicles can be hacked as easily as your smartphone or laptop. This warning may be the much needed wake-up call to establish a new mindset for vehicle owners. Many consumers are wowed by the gadgets and vehicle technology in new vehicles, such as the dashboard on this Tesla.


These high tech cars are not your parent’s vehicle. In the old days, the worst case scenario might be getting your car broken into with a rock through the windshield. Now, these modern vehicles have complex computer systems that when hacked, drivers could experience dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.

After extensive research was conducted, all of the information gathered was revealed in a whitepaper that became the basis of the FBI memo. This research exposes some of the vulnerabilities that could possibly happen in the event of a car hack.

In a target vehicle, at low speeds (5-10 mph):
Engine shutdown
Disable brakes

In a target vehicle, at any speed:
Door locks
Turn signal
Radio, HVAC, GPS

Although the FBI memo is new, car manufacturers have already been working closely with technology companies to solve these sorts of security problems. For example, Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has been working with another Swedish company, technology giant Ericsson. These innovative wireless networks make the Volvos ultra connected, as in this video advertisement that the car manufacturer recently tweeted. Here, they demonstrate the flawless technology that includes a seamless, secure experience.


As vehicles become more connected to smartphones and car manufacturers add more and more autonomous features, there will be more need for security.

In a Washington Post interview, Ericsson security expert Jonathan Olsson, admits that preventing hacking is going to be an uphill climb.

“As soon as you connect anything to the Internet, there’s a hacking risk. We protect the software that’s sent to a vehicle and make sure it hasn’t been tampered with, while policing who connects to the car.”

Olsson also points out that there are “typically 200 million lines of code in a car.” With literally 200 millions possible ways to get hacked, there is no doubt that the race to keep updating the code to prevent hackers from taking over a vehicle has started.

What can consumers do to prevent getting hacked? The FBI memo offers four solutions.

Keep your software updated

Just as you keep your computer operating system updated, you are going to do the very same thing with your vehicle. This means keeping in touch with your manufacturer via their website or sign up for their email newsletter. With “millions of possible ways to get hacked” this is key to preventing hackers from taking over your vehicle’s computer system.

Only use authorized software

Be careful about software modifications. Making any sort of change with unauthorized software could suddenly make your vehicle vulnerable to hacking.

Be careful what comes into contact with your vehicle

Just as a new, insecure app can create a backdoor for hackers to take down your smartphone, third party apps or accessories could make your vehicle vulnerable to hacking. Only use products that your car manufacturer deems safe for your vehicle.

Be careful who comes into contact with your vehicle

Only allow someone that you trust to come into contact with your vehicle. Not only does it matter who services your vehicle, but this may also make you rethink valet parking or your car washing service.

If you suspect that you have been hacked, immediately contact the vehicle manufacturer. If this hack is confirmed, then reach the FBI and the NHTSA to file a Vehicle Safety Complaint. For more information, read the entire FBI memo.

[Image via Dave Kenwood | Flickr/Wikimedia Commons| Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 2.0 ]