Security Review: Automobiles

By ando at 3:47 pm on February 15, 2009 | 2 Comments

In the United States, automobiles are everywhere.  Most middle-income families own more than one vehicle, and chances are that everybody knows of at least one person whose vehicle has been broken into or stolen.  Cars, trucks, and SUV’s are very expensive and contain many assets that would interest adversaries.  As technology improves, the ways vehicles are secured continually gets better, but thieves also get smarter.  There will never be a completely secure vehicle.


  • The vehicle itself for transportation value.  A thief can steal a vehicle to use in daily life.
  • Selling the vehicle or its parts for money.  The picture of a completely stripped car jacked up on cinder blocks comes to mind here.  Any part of a vehicle can be sold somewhere for money.
  • The gasoline in the tank.  Depending on the market value of gas, this asset can fluctuate in value as we saw last summer.
  • The owner’s personal belongings inside the automobile.  For example: CD’s, cell phones, iPods, clothing, golf clubs, and spare change are typical things stolen from a vehicle.


  • The common thief looking to steal any of the assets for profit.  All of the assets mentioned above can be stolen from the car and sold.  This makes breaking into a vehicle a great source of diverse assets for a thief.
  • An enemy who wants to tamper with the vehicle to inflict harm on owner.  This enemy can do many malicious things to a vehicle.  They could remove the brakes or tamper with safety features like airbags.


  • The locks on the car doors.  They can be picked.  Keys to the locks can be stolen and replicated.
  • Glass windows.  Security is only as strong as the weakest link and the windows are extremely easy to break for an adversary.  Any of the owner’s personal belongings can easily be stolen by the thief with a simple break of a window.


  • Adding additional methods of authentication to the key like a biometric reader.  For example, there are finger print readers and voice recognition software.  This makes the adversary’s job harder because they need to get past two or more security features instead of one.
  • The vulnerability of  windows is hard to protect against.  A vehicle could use shatterproof glass.  This would keep thieves out but would present a new risk for the passengers.  If an emergency situation occurred and passengers could not exit out of the doors the windows would no longer be an option for an emergency exit.
  • A car alarm can be protective against window breaks or lock picks but not completely secure.  If a thief is fast enough, she can break a window and steal an asset like a cell phone so fast, that once someone realizes an alarm is going off, she is gone.
  • Cameras that record any activity outside of a car can be effective in some situations.  If a thief’s picture is captured, authorities might be able to track her down and make an arrest.  However, sometimes the thief can disappear so effectively that this will achieve nothing.
  • A more evasive technique might be to have an electric shock or taser administered to anyone who attempts to break into the vehicle.  This obviously has flaws though.  The thief can plan clever ways to avoid the shock by wearing special gear or standing in special locations as they attempt a burglary. This could also potentially harm innocent people.

Cars will continually be a source of attack.  They have too many assets that thieves desire.  The best security is a combination of different security features.  This causes more work for the attacker and it might discourage her from committing the crime.

Filed under: Security Reviews2 Comments »


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    Comment by Josh Goodwin

    March 5, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

    As technology continues to advance in transportation, the potential harm caused by breaking into a vehicle and tampering with it increases. In the old days a malicious individual might have “cut the breaks” on an enemies car. But imagine the more sophisticated attacks that could arise on a car that is more automated? Already many cars have features such as GPS to guide a user to their destination or proximity sensors to warn of collisions. Some systems have been thought of that would even take control from the user if a collision was imminent, and a car that drives itself is a goal of many advanced transportation systems. As these features increase in power and potential consequence, it will become more and more important to not only try and protect the physical assets of the car from theft and tampering, but somehow securing these systems and ensuring that they cannot be tampered with without notice or indication.

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    Comment by Lisa P

    March 6, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

    As new technologies that are well fitted for cars have been invented, it makes even more bad people to try to break in cars. A car protection system has to be built-in each car in order to avoid bad things to happen. Not only just to avoid the car being broken, but also for the owners’ and the passengers’ safety. Something like biometric reader can be a good way to increase safety, however, like what happen in a country, a thieve cut off a car owner’s thumb in order to get access to the car. Thus, developers have to be aware of all disadvantages that car owners can get and whether it’s worth it or not.

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