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With US$15 in Radio Shack parts, 14-year-old hacks a car

Lucas Mearian | Feb. 23, 2015
Teen hacker was able to wirelessly connect to a vehicle's internal computer network and control various functions.

A teenager not even old enough to drive a car was able to wirelessly connect to a vehicle's internal computer network and control various functions.

The 14-year-old built an electronic remote auto communications device with $15 worth of Radio Shack parts that were assembled in less than a night.

Auto executives at a conference this week sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research revealed how stunned they were by the feat, which actually happened last summer, noting it shed light on the need for greater security as vehicles gain more wireless capabilities.

The boy, whose name is not being released, was among 30 other students ranging in age from high school to college undergraduates to PhD students who participated in the third annual Battelle CyberAuto Challenge. The year, make and models of the cars experimented on during the challenge were not disclosed.

While the CyberAuto Challenge was held last July, a recent report by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and comments from auto executives at this week's conference brought it back into the spotlight.

Markey's office issued a report on vehicle security and privacy earlier this month, noting that automakers are developing fleets with fully adopted wireless technologies like Bluetooth and wireless Internet access, but aren't addressing "the real possibilities of hacker infiltration into vehicle systems.

"Even as we are more connected than ever in our cars and trucks, our technology systems and data security remain largely unprotected," Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a statement. "We need to work with the industry and cyber-security experts to establish clear rules of the road to ensure the safety and privacy of 21st century American drivers."

Held in Troy, Mich., the CyberAuto Challenge is a five-day gathering of auto industry engineers, academic researchers and members of the white-hat hacker community  who assist the students with knowledge of their various vehicles.

Also in attendance at the CyberAuto Challenge were White House staff members and lawmakers.

After the students were educated on vehicle hardware, internal bus systems and wireless communication protocols, they divided into teams and attacked their assigned automobiles.

With just a little soldering and assembly, the 14-year-old built a device to wirelessly communicate with a vehicle's controller area network (CAN) and remotely control non-safety related equipment such as headlights, window wipers and the horn. He was also able to unlock the car and engage the vehicle's remote start feature.

Andrew Brown Jr., chief technologist at Delphi Automotive, was on hand for the challenge and was quoted as saying there is no way the boy should have been able to do what he did.

According to some security experts, infiltrating a vehicle's CAN should be an arduous process that requires in-depth planning. But, the kid even declined help from the technical experts on hand.


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