Ransomware for cars? FBI warns of malicious product recall alerts

The next malicious attachment in your inbox might not be targeting your computer but your car via a rigged recall notice, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has warned.

Malware-laced attachments have long been used by attackers as a means to credentials for a victim’s bank account or, in the case of ransomware, data captured by encryption that requires a payment of several hundred dollars to reinstate access.

But, with networked vehicles becoming mainstream and autonomous vehicles on the horizon, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) sees potential for criminals to exploit security and product recall notifications sent by car manufacturers.

The difference to today’s threats is that malware could just as easily target a computer or a vehicle it connects with in much the same way that a smartphone can be compromised via malware on the desktop.

“A criminal could send socially engineered e-mail messages to vehicle owners who are looking to obtain legitimate software updates. Instead, the recipients could be tricked into clicking links to malicious Web sites or opening attachments containing malicious software (malware),” the FBI said in a public service announcement (PSA).

“The malware could be designed to install on the owner’s computer, or be contained in the vehicle software update file, so as to be introduced into the owner’s vehicle when the owner attempts to apply the update via USB. Additionally, an attacker could attempt to mail vehicle owners USB drives containing a malicious version of a vehicle’s software.”

Other agencies worried about remote car hacking include the the PSA's co-authors, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All three are concerned that attacks on PCs and smartphones will migrate to the vehicle segment of the Internet of Things (IoT).

New car makers such as Tesla offer over-the-air (OTA) updates for its vehicles but traditional manufacturers, such as Ford, still deliver updates for some cars via USB drives.

USB attacks on cars would be novel, but it’s not a stretch to imagine methods used to compromise computers will be tweaked to infect computerised cars.

Read more: ​RSA Conference 2016 – The Top Five Issues

The FBI prefaced the alert with details of research from last year that demonstrated a remote attack on a Jeep model where core controls, such as the breaks, were commandeered from miles away by exploiting the vehicle’s electronic control unit (ECU). It fears security scares like these that result in product recalls could be used to exploit other vehicles.

The vehicle-equivalent of media players for browsers could also shape up to be a problem for car security in future.

“Third party aftermarket devices with Internet or cellular access plugged into diagnostics ports could also introduce wireless vulnerabilities,” the FBI said.

The malware warning comes amid a push by driverless car makers, including Google, for US lawmakers to create federal rules in the hope of accelerating the market for autonomous vehicles.

Read more: SINET targets Sydney debut to channel Australia's “hunger” for commercialising security innovation

High Consequence Cyber Crime: The Crime of the Century

Organised criminals : Harness the power of analytics to detect breaches early and minimize their exposure.

Download NOW

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags PSAFederal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)car makerscarscyber crimeransomwareCSO Australiahacking

More about FBIGooglePSATeslaTransportation

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Liam Tung

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place