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Six rising threats from cybercriminals

John Brandon | May 19, 2011
Watch out for these cyberattacks that can turn smartphones into texting botnets, shut off electricity, jam GPS signals and more.

The good news, Tarnutzer says, is that most of the forthcoming wireless technology for cars is for short-range communications -- say, from one lane to another or just as you pass through an intersection. That makes it difficult for hackers because they need to be in close proximity to the car.

Nevertheless, wireless connections in cars will undoubtedly make a tempting target for hackers. The answer, says Tarnutzer, is for the auto industry to use strong, hardware-based encryption technology.

For example, the OnStar communications and security service offers a theft-recovery feature that makes use of wireless signals. If your car is stolen, you can report the theft to the police, who then contact OnStar, which can transmit a signal over a 3G network to stop the accelerator from working in the stolen car. OnStar's transmissions are encrypted to thwart unauthorized attempts to tap into signals and interfere with vehicle operations.

DGE car diagnostic module
Modules like this one that connect to car diagnostics systems are protected by strong encryption technologies. In the future, carmakers and the DOT will need to certify devices that connect to a wireless network.

Car companies are, of course, aware of the potential for hackers to disrupt in-car wireless services. Representatives from Ford and GM, for instance, said they are developing strong encryption standards for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-back-end-infrastructure communications.

The technology for the connected car is for the most part still in a testing phase, says Tarnutzer. The DSRC network in particular will undergo thorough testing by both the car companies and the U.S. Department of Transportation to make sure it is hacker-resistant and uses strong encryption, he adds. "This is why it takes two to three years for an OEM to qualify a new vehicle, compared to six months for a new smartphone," he says.

 

6. GPS jamming and spoofing: Threat or nuisance?

Another emerging criminal tactic -- interfering with GPS signals -- has security experts divided on just how harmful it could become.

Jamming a GPS signal at the source is next to impossible, says Phil Lieberman, founder of enterprise security vendor Lieberman Software. Blocking the radio signals broadcast from orbiting GPS satellites would require a massive counter-transmission. And because the satellites are operated by the U.S. military, jamming them would be considered an act of war and a federal crime, says Lieberman.

However, it is easy to jam GPS receivers with a low-cost jamming device like one sold by Brando. The devices jam the GPS reception by overloading it with a similar signal -- the receiver becomes confused because it can't find a steady satellite transmission.

 

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