New technology is never-ending, because technology doesn’t just change with the times, it changes with the trends, too. One of the biggest tech trends is automation. Self-driving cars are an extension of technological automation, and this innovation makes commuting easier and less stressful than ever.

Self-driving vehicles allow the driver to take a backseat in the front seat and to worry less while navigating the roads. Although not all new cars will be self-driving, many will feature other automated technology to ease the driving experience.Hacking Your Ride - Infographic

New cars are now debuting features that help drivers (or the cars themselves) locate vacant parking spots, saving time and gas. Some cars eliminate gas completely and are run by the sun—yes, solar-powered cars are hot!

Bi-wheeled cars that resemble motorcycles may hit roads soon. These cars are skinnier, making them easier to maneuver in traffic!

Many cars produced in the last five years are extremely tech savvy. Many models feature camera guided parking, built-in theater systems and on-screen navigation and driver assistance.

As modern mechanics know, today’s cars drive on computers. At one time, popping the hood was enough to diagnose a mechanical issue. Today, with so many sensors and technological updates guiding the car’s performance, finding the cause behind a warning light is all about plugging the car into the computer.

The computer may have a downside. With self-driving cars and any vehicle that features technology behind the wheel, any reliance on computer capabilities also creates a prime target for hacking.

While having a device hacked is frustrating and scary, a hacked car could be much more dangerous than drivers realize. A hacker could take control of the entire vehicle. White Hackers demonstrated this potential by hacking into a Jeep, messing with numerous controls in the process. The seriousness of the experiment was realized when they targeted the transmission.

The driver–writer Andy Greenberg– knew that the car was going to be hacked and consented to be a willing participant. However, even he wasn’t prepared when the transmission affected his highway drive.

If a hacker gains access like this without consent, the result could be deadly. The potential for car hacking is real, and this is what you need to know about the risks and vulnerabilities of your modern-day computerized car.

Hack Your Ride

How does technology leave the car open to hackers? There are several ways that hackers can gain access to your car, and some of them might surprise you!

  1. Apps that allow you to control your car. The virtual key you use to enter and start your vehicle could also be hacked. Many new cars allow you to access your car via your phone. If a hacker can unlock your phone, they may be able to access your vehicle.
  2. Remote fobs. Don’t think those remote fobs are completely safe. Hackers can break into those, too. How? According to Esurance: “Using devices that are able to transmit electronic signals through walls, hackers are able to “amplify” these wireless signals, tricking the car into thinking the key fob is close by and unlocking the car.”

A hacker breaks into a car using a computer.

  1. Wi-Fi accessible features. Your key access isn’t the only spot in the car that is open season for hackers. Any part of your car that relies on WiFi or a hot spot can be accessed discreetly by a hacker. Entertainment systems are prime targets, according to Esurance. Once a hacker gets into your system, they may be able to manipulate other points of the car.  This means that your car may be physically out of your hands, even though you’re the one behind the wheel.
  2. Other devices. The FBI sent out an alert about car hacking risks. The alert notes one method hackers used to find their way into the car’s system was through another device plugged into the vehicle. If you’re driving around with your phone, tablet or GPS plugged into the car, make sure those devices are free of viruses and other malware. Otherwise, they could be a hacker’s access point into your car.

Ways to Prevent Hacking

If your car is new and has lots of computerized features, don’t assume that you’re going to be hacked. Like any device, a hacker must target you and then pursue the information needed to access your device (or car).

For stealthy hackers, hacking basic systems isn’t much of a challenge. But more protected systems might deter them. Here are 3 ways to keep your tech-savvy car safe from hackers.

  1. Don’t share passwords or pass codes

Yes, this is obvious, but many people trust others blindly. Do not EVER give out your passwords to any account. Don’t write down passwords in a place for others to see. This includes storing private information like passwords on your phone or tablet; if the device is stolen or hacked all your data is vulnerable.

  1. Avoid outdated software

Esurance notes that many automobile companies hire “white hackers” who look for flaws in a vehicle’s technology. These hackers gain access and tell the companies what flaw in the software allowed them to hack their way into the car. Esurance recommends updating all car software regularly. Outdated versions could be prone to hacking.

  1. Beware of malware

It is important that drivers do not download any questionable programs onto their phones or devices—especially if you use them to access your car. Malware and spyware are often hidden in programs and apps. Once you download them, the software goes live onto your phone or device…and those hackers may be able to gain access. Nearly a quarter of car hacks come from mobile apps or cloud servers. So, again, be cautious what you download; always make sure the app is legitimate.

A woman browses online for a new car using a tablet in a coffee shop.

Should You Steer Away from Car Tech?

As more technology makes cars vulnerable to hacking, should you avoid these vehicles completely? You could buy an older used car or even a “vintage car” that doesn’t come equipped with all the modern gadgets and gizmos. Eventually, though, technology will still sneak its way into your life…and your car.

You won’t be able to avoid technology completely, so you will have to become accustomed to your car becoming…smarter. Learn as much as you can about the features of any car you plan to purchase.

Ask questions at the dealership. Understand ways that you can protect your car from hackers. Protect your private information and be smart about what you download on any device that is also linked to your car.

Technology has many advantages that often override the fear of malicious hackers. Today’s cars make parking easier and allow drivers to summon help in case of emergency or an accident. We can stream our playlists, watch movies, access the internet and find the easiest route to any location.

As technology advances, we will likely see flying cars, self-driving cars and slimmed down automobiles that zip through traffic. All these models will have flaws and vulnerabilities, but, really, no car is safe from thieves. Before keyless entry, cars were boosted by picking the lock and hotwiring. No matter how savvy—or unsavvy—your car, any thief who really wants it will try to find a way in. So, protect yourself, be smart about technology and protect your car in any way you can.