Person holding a laptop with a car hood open

Cybersecurity will stop your car from betraying you.​


“The value of technology in a car today is better than the technology that was in the lunar lander in the '60s," says Fresno State's Dr. Clement. “Your car has a tremendous amount​ of computing power."

With that power comes risk—even when a car's systems aren't connected to the Web. “The entertainment options are one of the most vulnerable aspects of a vehicle," notes Shahab Tayeb, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Lyles College of Engineering at Fresno State. “Because whenever we have open​ness in a network—like being able to bring your own device and connect to a network—that opens up security holes."

What's more, vehicles have what are called embedded controllers, which Dr. Tayeb describes as “a smaller version of a computer specifically designed for a task." Controllers within a car “talk" to one another to keep things operating as they should, but “if one attacker gets through the entertainment system, they could potentially have access to the engine or the data that's being transferred, or, for example, the brakes," explains Tayeb. A hacker could, say, redirect your car's navigation system to a new destination or plow you directly into oncoming traffic. “Basically," he says, “whatever you see in a new vehicle is hackable because it runs on codes."

Compared to other types of hacking, transportation cyberattacks are relatively recent and less advanced, but that's likely to change. “We are beginning to move down the road toward autonomous vehicles and Amazon drone deliveries," Clement says. “So the impact of cyberattacks on your car increases on a daily basis."

The potential for bad actors to weaponize cars becomes a lesson at Cal State San Bernardino. “We take students from diverse backgrounds and put them on a team, have them work with a national laboratory and they'll spend time hacking into vehicles themselves…to do vulnerability assessments on cars," explains Dr. Coulson, who's planning a hacking exercise of EV car chargers in an upcoming class. “A lot of these chargers are made in another country and once they're plugged into the car, it communicates data back and forth with the car and could create a worm or virus inside the car."