Dude . . . Where’s My Hacked Car?


Connected cars present opportunities to revolutionize mobility, but they stand out as prime targets for hackers, as evidence by the 2015 hack of a Jeep Cherokee. Recently, the list of hacked connected cars added a new member: the Mitsubishi Outlander plug in hybrid electric vehicle.

According to Pen Test Partners—the research group that previously hacked in to a Samsung smart fridge—the Mitsubishi vehicle had an “unusual method” of connecting a companion mobile application to the car. Most remote control apps work by using a web service—which is hosted by the car manufacturer or their designated service provider—which, in turn connects to the car using cellular modem, the research group explained. This allows users to connect to the car from “virtually anywhere,” they said.

The Outlander, however, allows users to access its remote functions by directly connecting to the car’s built-in Wi-Fi network. After testing the Outlander’s security measures, Pen Test Partners found that the Wi-Fi’s pre-shared key was “too simple and too short,” allowing them to crack it in just few days. “A much faster crack could be achieved with a cloud hosted service,” they noted. Once the researchers connected to the car, they were able to remotely unlock the doors and even disable the car’s alarm system. 

When Pen Test Partners contacted Mitsubishi, the car company initially responded “with disinterest.” However, after a story about the hack hit the mainstream media, the car company decided to take the issue “very seriously at the highest levels,” according to the research group.

In addition to built-in Wi-Fi networks, modern cars have multiple electronic control units that are vulnerable to hacker attacks. As more companies launch collaborative projects and more connected cars hit the road—the predicted number of connected cars by 2020 ranges from 31.8 million to 1.5 billion—hackers will have more potential targets. To truly take advantage of this technological revolution, maintaining consumer trust in connected cars’ ability to secure personal information is crucial, according to industry professionals.

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