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Hackers could start abusing electric car chargers to cripple the grid, researcher says

Loek Essers | April 12, 2013
Hackers could use vulnerable charging stations to prevent the charging of electric vehicles in a certain area, or possibly even use the vulnerabilities to cripple parts of the electricity grid, a security researcher said during the Hack in the Box conference in Amsterdam on Thursday.

And while it all depends on the application, bandwidth and latency limits of the RS-485 networks makes eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks simple, according to Shezaf, who described several other potential vulnerabilities during his presentation.

Using these methods, hackers could start influencing charge planning or influence and stop charges, he said. If no electric car can charge for a day when 30 percent of all cars in a country are electric, this could become problematic, he said. "If someone can prevent charging for everyone in a small area you have a major influence on life. In a larger area it might be a really really big problem," Shezaf said.

"If somebody finds a way to confuse the smart car charging system, the denial of service can not only hit charging cars, but also the electricity system," he said.

While risks may be small today, it is time to start securing charging systems, Shezaf said. There should be more standardization in the charging sector, preferably using open standards, he said. But basically "we just have to pay more attention and spend more money," he said, adding that at the moment too little of both is happening.

"We shouldn't be relaxing now. The issues will become real when electric cars become real. If we don't start today it won't be secure in 10 years," he said.

 

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