Car hackers build kit to protect you and your motor from fiery death

Turns out IDS is actually useful for something

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Black Hat 2014 At last year’s Black Hat USA, Charlie Miller, security engineer at Twitter and Apple-cracker extraordinaire, and Chris Valasek, director of security intelligence at IOActive, showed delegates how to hack a car. This year they demoed a system that can stop any such hacks dead.

Over the past 12 months, the duo have been going through publicly available information about car systems and hacking their own vehicles. The results of their research is that while it is possible to remotely hack – and in some cases take limited control of a vehicle – it’s very difficult and will only work with certain models.

All car computer systems share common features, principally at least one controller area network (CAN) that shuffles messages between various computer systems on the car, such as brake sensors and radios. While these are hackable, that’s not the whole story.

For a start, only a few cars allow computer control of the steering, acceleration, and braking systems of the car. Typically these are installed to handle features like automatic parking, adaptive cruise control and collision-avoidance systems.

But the pair found a wide variation among manufacturers in the network design and security protocols used. For example, most CANs can receive messages from one part of the car and not just route that data to a control system, but interpret it and rewrite it before forwarding it on.

More than a few car manufacturers isolate the systems for controlling things like acceleration and steering on a separate CAN so that commands can’t be directed to them from other parts of the car. Other models use a privilege system so that messages from minor units can’t communicate with safety-critical ones.

Web browsers in cars – we know where this is going

The problem is that cars are becoming more heavily computerized and that leads to more networking so the driver and passengers can get access to up-to-date information while on the move: most newish cars have a Bluetooth system hidden inside, a connection to the cellular data network, and so on.

Now manufacturers are building web browsers into cars, which brings the world to your fingertips but introduces a whole different security ballgame. It's now easy for an attacker to find his or her way into a car from the other side of the planet and run code on it, we're told.

"Once you add a web browser to a car, it's open," Miller told the conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. "I may not be able to write a Bluetooth exploit, but I know I can exploit web browsers."

The security of the networking aside, there are other problems: patching is a major issue. It’s hard enough to get computer users to patch, but when you've got drive to a dealership for a software security upgrade, people are likely not to bother.

But, as it turns out, protecting against car hacking is a relatively simple matter, and the two have put together a cheap little board and software – dubbed the Can-no hackalator 3000 – which can be fitted to any car – or so we're told – and stop hacks using a old, and much maligned, piece of security software: an intrusion detection system.

"IDS sucks in computers, but it turns out they work for cars because cars are simple," said Miller.

While IDS systems on big networks can fail to spot dodgy traffic, with cars the networks are so basic and the messages sent so simple that an IDS system is really effective. Furthermore the device is car agnostic and very easy to use, it was claimed.

The two showed a video of the Can-no hackalator 3000 plugged into a car’s network, where it spent about ten seconds scanning the system and learning how and what messages are in circulation.

When a hack of the car was attempted, the Can-no hackalator 3000 detected it immediately and blocked computer control of the car’s functions just in case. While the car is manually drivable in this state, features like adaptive cruise control won't work. Compare that inconvenience to a fiery ball of death, however. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Regin: The super-spyware the security industry has been silent about
NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family
Why did it take antivirus giants YEARS to drill into super-scary Regin? Symantec responds...
FYI this isn't just going to target Windows, Linux and OS X fans
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
Hikvision devices wide open to hacking, claim securobods
'Regin': The 'New Stuxnet' spook-grade SOFTWARE WEAPON described
'A degree of technical competence rarely seen'
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
You stupid BRICK! PCs running Avast AV can't handle Windows fixes
Fix issued, fingers pointed, forums in flames
prev story


Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.