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How do car hackers access my car?

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Updated 11 Oct 2019

Michael Jacobson

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The headline read: "Hackers remotely kill a Jeep on the highway – with me in it!"

Many of you will remember this story from 2015 when US reporter Andy Greenberg became the guinea pig for a demonstration of car hacking.

As he drove a Jeep on to a busy highway, the hackers went to work disabling this, enabling that and generally causing havoc for the Jeep and one helpless journo.

More of Andy later, but the point of the demonstration was to show how easy it is to hack into a vehicle – and it's still an issue.

Here’s a few of the insidious though admittedly ingenious ways that hackers and thieves go about their dodgy business.


SARA stands for Signal Amplification Relay Attack – also known as relay theft or wireless hack – and it's a common ploy among hackers and thieves.

Whatever you want to call it, crooks are using signal boosters (many of which are remarkably inexpensive) that trick cars into thinking their key fobs are nearer than is actually the case.

The upshot is that the doors open, access is gained and the thieves can then help themselves to whatever's in your car and perhaps the car itself.

In a worrying sign, research from the UK claims that eight out of 10 stolen vehicles in 2017 were nicked without requiring the actual keys.


Technology is a wonderful thing, but don't let it lull you into a false sense of automotive security.

Keyless jamming works by blocking the signal you think you've sent from the key fob to automatically lock your car.

By jamming the signal, the information doesn't reach the car, meaning you walk away unaware that the car is still unlocked and there for the taking by those craven crims.

Good advice here is to activate the lock command, but still manually check that the car is locked.


Fair enough, "highway rubbery" is a terrible pun about tyres, although it does refer to a despicable method employed by venal vehicle villains.

By using technology to compromise tyre sensors, crims can transmit false tyre pressure readings that may convince you to stop the car, get out and check.

This immediately makes you as vulnerable as your car, so if you must pull over, please opt for areas that are well illuminated and not isolated.


Phishing schemes have been around for so long that you might think that people are awake to scams lobbing in their emails and messages with their dodgy attachments and links.

However, phishing remains a favoured method among hackers seeking to install malware.

When it comes to computer systems and connectivity, exercise the same caution in your car as you would at home.


As the aforementioned Andy Greenberg's Jeep jaunt confirmed, car hackers can pretty much go to town on any and every part of your car.

In Greenberg's case, the hackers attacked his brakes, sound system, wipers, windows, air-con, transmission and more, and these so-called "denial of service" attacks can impact plenty of other functions too.

It's the kind of scenario that is disturbing enough, even before thinking of the implications around safety for yourself and others on the road.

What's more, the ubiquitous presence of Wi-Fi in these digital days means that even your personal data could be up for grabs, especially if hackers access your car's local network.

It's a good tip to regularly change your onboard Wi-Fi password.

At AutoGuru, we want you to enjoy a smooth, safe and secure motoring experience – even when your car is parked in the driveway at home.

Despite the fact there will always be those who seek to take advantage via illegal means and methods, hopefully articles like this one will help to keep you a step ahead of them, the swine.

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Written By

Michael Jacobson

Michael Jacobson is an award-winning Queensland-based writer.

His appreciation for motoring began as a young journalist covering racing from Simmons Plains in Tasmania.

Over the years he has interviewed many Australian and international motoring greats.

He has also been driven around Lakeside Raceway at ferocious speed, circumnavigated the Gold Coast Indy circuit at more than 200kmh and managed to squeeze 365,000 kilometres out of a Toyota Starlet.