Publication Date

June 2019


With the rapid adoption of internet-connected and driver-assist technologies, and the spread of semi-autonomous to self-driving cars on roads worldwide, cybersecurity for smart cars is a timely concern and one worth exploring both in the classroom and in the real world. Highly publicized hacks against production cars, and a relatively small number of crashes involving autonomous vehicles, have brought the issue of securing smart cars to the forefront as a matter of public and individual safety, and the cybersecurity of these “data centers on wheels” is of greater concern than ever.

However, up to this point there has been a steep learning curve involved in applying cybersecurity research to car hacking. The purpose of this paper is to present a clear, step-by-step process for creating a car-hacking research workstation and to give faculty, students, and researchers the ability to implement car hacking in their own courses and lab environments. This article describes the integration of a module on car hacking into a semester-long ethical hacking cybersecurity course, including full installation and setup of all the open-source tools necessary to implement the hands-on labs in similar courses. This work demonstrates how to test an automobile for vulnerabilities involving replay attacks, and how to reverse-engineer CAN bus messages, using a combination of open-source tools and a commodity CAN-to-USB cable or wireless connector for under $100 (USD). Also provided are an introduction to the CAN (controller area network) bus in modern automobiles and a brief history of car hacking.