Six Ways to Protect Against Autonomous Vehicle Cyber Attacks


Today, it’s relatively easy for cyber criminals to hack into connected vehicles. The reason being that they only need to exploit a single vulnerability within an autonomous car to gain access to the operating system—and possibly the entire network. 

Demonstrating Autonomous Vehicle Cyber Attacks

There are a number of examples demonstrating these vulnerabilities. In 2015, ethical “good guy” hackers Charlie Miller and Skanda Vivek demonstrated how they could hack into a 2014 Jeep Cherokee, which they then proceeded to remotely control from their homes. Worryingly, they discovered that 2,695 vehicles contained the same vulnerability they had exploited in the Cherokee while scanning nearby cars. 

In 2017 and again in 2018, experts from Keen Security Lab were able to hack into different Tesla models. In 2020, the same company said it successfully installed harmful code in a Lexus NX300. Additionally,  another pair of ethical hackers, Amat Cama and Richard Zhu, accessed a Tesla Model 3 computer in only a few minutes by hacking into the vehicle’s “infotainment” system in 2019. They achieved this by exploiting a vulnerability in the system’s browser.

Given the high level of connectivity, autonomous vehicles are tempting targets for hackers who might attempt to steal financial data from drivers or even launch high-level terrorist attacks by turning vehicles into weapons. 

How to Protect Autonomous Vehicles

Some experts think it may never be possible to fully secure autonomous vehicles because of their complexity. However, autonomous vehicle technology can certainly be made more secure—even though autonomous vehicle cyber attacks are a worrying issue. According to the August 2020 issue of Physics World, there are six ways that autonomous vehicle manufacturers, cities, and drivers can protect these vehicles:

  1. Create a unique password: There’s a good chance your vehicle comes with a default password that might be easy for hackers to guess. For instance, in 2019, someone hacked into thousands of vehicles simply by guessing the default password of their GPS tracking apps: “123456”.
  2. Cities should deploy multiple networks instead of one: Depending on a single network puts connected vehicles at greater risk from potential attacks. By creating many small networks, cities can greatly reduce the risks.
  3. Update the vehicle’s software: The latest software for a vehicle will include the most up-to-date patches that will protect the vehicle from known threats.
  4. Prioritize security: Vehicle makers should ensure that app designers are focused on making sure that the apps are secure prior to their installation in vehicles.
  5. Shut off GPS: Current vehicle GPS systems are easily hacked through what’s known as “GPS spoofing”. This is where a bad actor interferes with a GPS location system by using a radio signal. For example, a hacker could use spoofing to halt a car in its tracks by tricking it into thinking it has reached its destination. Therefore, GPS should only be enabled when needed.
  6. Understand your autonomous vehicle: While it might be easy to tell when something is wrong with a standard vehicle, the high level of complexity that underlies autonomous cars can make vulnerabilities difficult to spot. Therefore, it’s important for drivers to familiarize themselves with their autonomous vehicles before getting behind the wheel.

Automotive Cyber Security

As the automotive industry continues to work on intelligent and autonomous vehicles, there is a need to better comprehend the safety and security of this connected technology. The IEEE five-course program, Automotive Cyber Security: Protecting the Vehicular Network, aims to foster the discussion on automotive cyber security solutions and requirements for not only intelligent vehicles, but also the infrastructure of intelligent transportation systems.

Contact an IEEE Content Specialist today to learn more about getting access to these courses for your organization. 

Interested in the course for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network.


Ornes, Stephen. (18 August 2020). How to hack a self-driving car. Physics World.

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