Hackers build vehicle tuning device for less than $30

By on February 10, 2014, 3:00 PM

Security has become a growing concern as technology gains a larger foothold in the automotive industry. Up to this point, however, most of the fear associated with a hacker taking over your car has been limited to viral e-mails and the like. But that could all change in the near future thanks to a practical (and affordable) device that can be built using common components.

As Jalopnik outlines, the device is built using the Arduino platform and also contains an SD card reader, a 12V to 5V adapter, a small LCD screen and all of the necessary connections required to hook up to a car. And yes, the device needs to physically plug into the vehicle’s computer so no wireless hacking (yet) although it can be controlled wirelessly via Bluetooth from a smartphone.

Alberto Garcia Illera and Javier Vazquez Vidal, the developers behind the project, said they initially created it because they wanted to adjust the settings of their cars (and their friends’ cars). Specifically, they wanted to tune the ECU for better fuel management and add more power – a common technique among automotive enthusiasts that usually requires an expensive aftermarket tuning device.

The gadget can be used for the intended purpose but if it fell into the wrong hands, things could go bad pretty quickly. For example, it could be used to “brick” a car by unplugged it while the car is starting up. Other options would allow the module to apply the emergency brakes, turn the headlights on or off and change the power steering controls.

The system is currently compatible with 2010 and newer models that use the K-Line protocol although we’re told it could easily be modified with newer protocols.




User Comments: 13

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MilwaukeeMike said:

For example, it could be used to "brick" a car by unplugged it while the car is starting up. Other options would allow the module to apply the emergency brakes, turn the headlights on or off and change the power steering controls.

Yes, but you still need access to the car to plug in the computer. If you have access to the car, you can "brick" it by pouring sugar in the gas tank too. As for causing an accident... you could just take a simple ratchet set (also less than $30) and remove the oil pan's drain plug.

I don't see building your own car hacking computer useful for anything malicious... sounds like far more trouble than it's worth.

insect said:

Neato! Although I don't think I will be messing with something that has the potential to brick my car. A phone, sure... that's only a couple hundred to get a new one, a car ECU... not so cheap. I'll leave it to the pros to screw up - they have insurance to pay for my bricked car.

1 person liked this | NTAPRO NTAPRO said:

Lol bricking a car

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Just the ECU, not the car. "Bricking the car" sounds more like a multithousand dollar loss.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Lol bricking a car

yeah, right? I guess we don't have a word for 'break beyond being able to fix' for a car, although un-fixable probably doesn't ever apply to a car. We do say 'totaled' though when the cost to fix is too high.

Guest said:

Nothing new here that hasn't been done since "Tuner Cars" came about..They been doing this stuff for years..Now they put a Hackers twist on it..

Guest said:

In a related news, pentagon finally jailed edward snowden (who/which was made thru 3d printing).

JC713 JC713 said:

Wow now this is cool.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I honest to God wish I knew WTF was wrong with you people.

You think just because something can be done, it's cool, and it should be done.

Better you should think in terms of the OBD port as your car's rectum. And your mothers should have taught you, not to let anyone stick anything in your rectums. At least not without buying you dinner. And even then, I personally consider it a no-no.

This is another one of those really dumb articles. Why would you think some really special talent would be required to hack a car's computer. The people that designed it, "hacked" it in the first place, don't cha think?

You just come off as really naive and stupid, if you present yourself in the mindset of, "oh, yeah, it would be easy to design something to kick the transmission into neutral". Super! I think it would even more super, if the cops used it on you. Unpaid ticket? Missed an insurance payment? You should be stopped dead in your tracks, and hauled off to jail. That would give you some time to consider the lack of wisdom in your opinions.

"Progressive Insurance", already is spouting propaganda that it would be a great idea, to have that horse faced b***h, "Flo's", nose up your a** while you're driving......Thus: "With 'snapshot", you'll get a discount on your insurance"(*)

Well, since some of you are already letting your insurance company put a microscope on your driving habits, can "Big Brother" be far behind??

Personally, I wonder if this generation is closing in on being so stupid and inbred, that it won't be able to breath and dial its iPhone at the same time. Do you people need, "self driving cars", so you can waste even more of your lives on Facebook?

(*) Everything you do driving, is sent back to the insurance company for examination. So, anybody with even one brain cell working, should be able to figure out that it would be, the worst idea imaginable, to allow your car's computer to be used as a satellite phone which "phones home", to the government.

lmike6453 said:

I honest to God wish I knew WTF was wrong with you people.

You think just because something can be done, it's cool, and it should be done.

Better you should think in terms of the OBD port as your car's rectum. And your mothers should have taught you, not to let anyone stick anything in your rectums. At least not without buying you dinner. And even then, I personally consider it a no-no.

This is another one of those really dumb articles. Why would you think some really special talent would be required to hack a car's computer. The people that designed it, "hacked" it in the first place, don't cha think?

You just come off as really naive and stupid, if you present yourself in the mindset of, "oh, yeah, it would be easy to design something to kick the transmission into neutral". Super! I think it would even more super, if the cops used it on you. Unpaid ticket? Missed an insurance payment? You should be stopped dead in your tracks, and hauled off to jail. That would give you some time to consider the lack of wisdom in your opinions.

"Progressive Insurance", already is spouting propaganda that it would be a great idea, to have that horse faced b***h, "Flo's", nose up your a** while you're driving......Thus: "With 'snapshot", you'll get a discount on your insurance"(*)

Well, since some of you are already letting your insurance company put a microscope on your driving habits, can "Big Brother" be far behind??

Personally, I wonder if this generation is closing in on being so stupid and inbred, that it won't be able to breath and dial its iPhone at the same time. Do you people need, "self driving cars", so you can waste even more of your lives on Facebook?

(*) Everything you do driving, is sent back to the insurance company for examination. So, anybody with even one brain cell working, should be able to figure out that it would be, the worst idea imaginable, to allow your car's computer to be used as a satellite phone which "phones home", to the government.

I don't know captian, you seem kinda cranky this morning...

I agree with most of what you said, however I don't think it's cool to bash ppl for getting excited over technology

I've been a car enthusiast for years, and the tuning aspect has always been cool to me

Guest said:

With all the people out there who can't even turn a wrench..there are much simpler way to maliciously brick a car with a pair of snippers or a razor blade.

cmbjive said:

For example, it could be used to "brick" a car by unplugged it while the car is starting up. Other options would allow the module to apply the emergency brakes, turn the headlights on or off and change the power steering controls.

Yes, but you still need access to the car to plug in the computer. If you have access to the car, you can "brick" it by pouring sugar in the gas tank too. As for causing an accident... you could just take a simple ratchet set (also less than $30) and remove the oil pan's drain plug.

I don't see building your own car hacking computer useful for anything malicious... sounds like far more trouble than it's worth.

Brick a car? Just slash all four tires. That'll get your car up on bricks real quick.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I don't know captian, you seem kinda cranky this morning...

I agree with most of what you said, however I don't think it's cool to bash ppl for getting excited over technology

I've been a car enthusiast for years, and the tuning aspect has always been cool to me

The military and government, (maybe those entities are the same thing), generally acquire new tech before the general public. Then, "space age products", make their way to consumers, months, perhaps years, later. Point being, I'm sure this has been investigated by some government lab or contractor, long before these attention seeking A-holes, ever came up with this, "original idea".

I doubt that it's terribly difficult to hack a car's computer. After all, the people that programmed it in the first place, could have gotten it to do whatever they wanted to then.

Point 2: your car's ECM, was NEVER designed to withstand cyber attacks in the first place, and if you're dumb enough to plug the piece of crap this article describes into your ECM, you deserve whatever you get. Happy Motoring!

And if someone is ignorant or vindictive enough, to plug a device like this into someone's car they're feuding with, in an attempt to "brick it", I hope they at least get the crap beat out of then.

And BTW, plots about murders being committed with "hacked" cars, have already been on prime time TV. There's nothing new here.

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