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Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile

Paper link


  • Cars have 100 MB of binary code, or 100 million LOC
  • Spread out 50-70 electronic control units
  • ECUs connected by internal network buses
  • This paper is about attacks once the attacker gains access to the car

Attack surface

  • On-Board Diagnostics Port
  • User modifiable subsystems, like audio systems, are connected to internal networks
  • So are short range wireless devices (bluetooth, etc)
  • Telematics systems (crash response, stolen vehicle recovery) integrate internal networks with remote control center over cellular data
  • “Car as a platform” — third party apps running on car
  • Vehicle to vehicle communications
  • Vehicle to infrastructure communications


  • Some features require complex interactions across ECUs
  • For example, Electronic Stability Control
  • Standardized digital buses: Controller Area Network (CAN)
  • Standardized software architecture for ECUs: AUTOSAR
  • Cars have a few buses with different purposes
  • High speed bus for real time data (like speed)
  • Low speed bus for car doors, lights, etc
  • You’d expect these buses to be separated. But they are bridged, to allow rules like “if air bags deploy, unlock car doors”
  • Potential vulnerabilities in cars
  • V2V vulnerabilities 18
  • Theft related access control 11, 16, 3

Attack Vectors

  • Or, how the attacker first gains access to the car
  • Physical access
  • Plant rogue component in car’s internal network. Either permanently, or use it to install malware onto other ECUs
  • How to gain physical access?
    • Break into car using vulnerability (theft related ACL)
    • Convince friend/valet/trusted person
    • Disguise component as a harmless device and sell to owner
  • Wireless interfaces in car
  • Some interfaces are short distance, but others have very high range
  • Compromise ECUs through network, then escalate privileges based on this paper’s results

Test Environments

  • Bench: extracted individual pieces of hardware and analyzed them
  • Stationary car
  • Moving car

Controller Area Network (CAN) Attacks

CAN Architecture

  • No concept of network addresses
  • Every message is sent to every node, which decides whether or not to process it (publish/subscribe model)
  • Sometimes have separate, but bridged high-speed and low-speed physical layers

CAN Vulnerabilities

  • CAN broadcasts all packets to all nodes. This means malicious nodes can sniff other ECUs’ packets. Malicious nodes can also send spoofed packets to any other ECU.
  • Vulnerable to DOS. First of all, packet flooding is easy due to broadcast. Second, a node can become “dominant” and block other nodes from getting packets.
  • No authenticator fields. CAN packets don’t have any authentication field, or even a source field. Any ECU can indistinguishably send any packet to any other ECU. A single hacked ECU can attack or control any other ECU.

ECU attacks

  • Packet sniffing
  • Targeted probing
  • Fuzzing
  • Reverse engineering

Attackable devices

  • Radio
  • Instrument Panel Cluster
  • Body Controller
  • Engine
  • Brakes
  • HVAC
  • Generic Denial of Service

Attacks involving multiple components

  • Speedometer
  • Lights out
  • Self destruct
  • Bridging internal CAN networks
  • Hosting code; wiping code