Insecure Android apps put connected cars at risk

The apps have no protection from malware running on mobile devices

Android applications that allow millions of car owners to remotely locate and unlock their vehicles are missing security features that could prevent tampering by hackers.

Researchers from antivirus vendor Kaspersky Lab took seven of the most popular Android apps that accompany connected cars from various manufacturers and analyzed them from the perspective of a compromised Android device. The apps and manufacturers have not been named.

The researchers looked at whether such apps use any of the available countermeasures that would make it hard for attackers to hijack them when the devices they're installed on are infected with malware. Other types of applications, such as banking apps, have such protections.

The analysis revealed that none of the tested applications used code obfuscation to make it harder for attackers to reverse engineer them and none of them used code integrity checks to prevent malicious manipulation.

Two applications didn't encrypt the login credentials stored locally and four encrypted only the password. None of the apps checked if the devices they're running on are rooted, which could indicate that they're insecure and possibly compromised.

Finally, none of the tested applications used overlay protections to prevent other apps from drawing over their screens. There are malware apps that display fake log-in screens on top of other apps in order to trick users to expose their log-in credentials.

While compromising connected car apps might not directly enable theft, it could make it easier for would-be thieves. Most such apps, or the credentials they store, can be used to remotely unlock the vehicle and disable its alarm system.

"Also, the risks should not be limited to mere car theft," the Kaspersky researchers said in a blog post. "Accessing the car and deliberate tampering with its elements may lead to road accidents, injuries, or death."

While manufacturers are rushing to add smart features to cars that are meant to improve the experience for car owners, they tend to focus more on securing the back-end infrastructure and the communications channels. However, the Kaspersky researchers warn that client-side code, such as the accompanying mobile apps, should not be ignored as it's the easiest target for attackers and most likely the most vulnerable spot.

"Being an expensive thing, a car requires an approach to security that is no less meticulous than that of a bank account," the researchers said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?