There is no evidence that any of these attack scenarios have been used by criminals, and there’s little immediate danger to consumers, the researchers say. “Both Stefan and I still feel perfectly comfortable driving our cars,” Kohno says.
“This took 10 researchers two years to accomplish,” Savage adds. “It’s not something that one guy is going to do in his garage.”
However, it may be time for manufacturers to start looking for ways to protect cars from hacker attacks. Louis Lanzerotti, a distinguished research professor in the physics department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the chair of the Committee on Electronic Vehicle Controls and Unintended Acceleration, says the researchers were invited to speak at the event as part of its review of electronic vehicle controls, systems, and safety across the industry. The group will assemble the information it gathers to make recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding ways to ensure that electronic vehicle controls are safe.
“Attacking cars remotely significantly broadens the threat and greatly increases the impact of this and [the researchers’] previous work,” says Aurélien Francillon, a researcher in the system security group at ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, who has also worked on automotive security. “It is time for car manufacturers, as they become software companies, to take software security very seriously and apply both common best practices in software hardening and formal design and verification methods.” Though Francillon acknowledges that this will increase the expense of developing and engineering systems for cars, he believes that added investment will be necessary as more software attacks become public.
Some manufacturers are already working on better security, Francillon notes, and several European research projects are under way, such as Evita, in addition to work being done by the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security.
Savage believes that, despite the broad range of vulnerabilities the research found, the problems will be addressed. “We may see a good outcome here,” he says.