Improving vehicle security

Criminal using a laptop to hack a vehicle's security system

Modern cars and other types of motor vehicle are secured by ‘smart’ keyless fobs and cards. While smart devices offer many benefits, including greater convenience for users, criminals can also exploit the underlying technology in these devices to steal or otherwise interfere with vehicles in novel ways.

Improving vehicle security

Since 2013, Prof Flavio Garcia, Professor of Computer Security has been researching vehicle security systems in order to identify potential security weakness affecting hundreds of millions of vehicles. Working with industry and policymakers, he has been able to secure improvements in operational procedures, product redesign and in the policy field.

Key researcher

garcia-flavio-900pxProfessor Flavio Garcia

School of Computer Science
Professor of Computer Security

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Discovering underlying vulnerabilities in security system

Garcia’s research focuses on studying the underlying mathematical building blocks, known as cryptography, which manufacturers rely on to secure vehicles. By closely observing how security systems operate, Prof Garcia has been able to discover serious vulnerabilities which could enable criminals not only to access vehicles, but in some instances, even wirelessly start a vehicle’s engine.

Working with partners to improve vehicle security

To date, Prof Garcia has discovered serious vulnerabilities in three security systems commonly found in keyless systems used by global vehicle manufacturers. He has disclosed vulnerabilities to manufactures responsibly, so that they have time to investigate them and identify potential solutions.

Prof Garcia’s research has helped to raise awareness of vehicle security in the digital age. His research has generated global media headlines. He has been invited to speak at a Danish insurance industry annual conference about research into vehicle security systems.

Changing industry security practices

Since Prof Garcia first began his research into vehicle security, most manufacturers have adopted one of his core recommendations of using publicly scrutinised and standardised cryptographic primitives. They have migrated from using insecure, proprietary cryptographic solutions for new vehicles to ones using open standards, making them more secure and harder to steal, to the benefit of society.

Industry partners are increasingly working with Prof Garcia to improve vehicle security, with Jaguar Land Rover funding research in Prof Garcia’s group on how to make the in-vehicle network and interconnected vehicles more secure.

Wider benefits to society

Prof Garcia’s research into the implementation of protocols has also led to wider improvements in cyber security beyond transportation. This includes the operation of UK online banking systems and the contactless cards used to manage access to sensitive infrastructure sites.

Partner with us

We’re always keen to develop new ways to work with industry, policymakers and members of the public to improve vehicle security. Please contact us at: