Hyundai app exposed vehicles to high-tech thieves: researchers

TORONTO (Reuters) - Software vulnerabilities in a Hyundai Motor Co 005380.KS app that lets a car be started remotely made the company's vehicles susceptible to theft from high-tech thieves for three months before the company fixed the bug in March, a cyber security firm said on Tuesday.

A Hyundai logo is seen outside a factory in Beijing, China April 8, 2017. Picture taken April 8, 2017. REUTERS/Muyu Xu

Hyundai introduced a flaw in a Dec. 8, 2016 update to the mobile app for its Blue Link connected car software that made it possible for car thieves to locate vulnerable vehicles, unlock and start the vehicles, said Tod Beardsley, research director with cyber security firm Rapid7 Inc RPD.O.

Hyundai confirmed the bug’s existence and said it moved quickly to fix the problem.

The U.S. Deparment of Homeland Security issued an advisory about the vulnerability on Tuesday.

“No known public exploits specifically target these vulnerabilities,” the advisory read. “High skill level is needed to exploit.”

Both the company and Beardsley said they did not know of any cases of car thieves exploiting the vulnerability before Hyundai pushed out the fix to Android and iPhone users in early March.

“The issue did not have a direct impact on vehicle safety,” said Jim Trainor, a spokesman for Hyundai Motor America. “Hyundai is not aware of any customers being impacted by this potential vulnerability.”

The bug surfaced as the auto industry bolsters efforts to secure vehicles from cyber attacks, following a high-profile recall of Fiat Chrysler FCHA.MI vehicles in 2015 and government warnings about the potential for car hacks.

Risks have multiplied in recent years as vehicles have grown more complex, adding features like mobile apps that can locate, unlock and start them.

“What’s changed is not just the presence of all that hackable software, but the volume and variety of remote attack surfaces added to more recent vehicles,” said Josh Corman, director of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.

Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million U.S. vehicles in 2015 after two security researchers demonstrated that they could get remote control of a Jeep traveling at high speeds.

The Blue Link bug is not as frightening as the ones uncovered in the Fiat Chrysler vehicles. Moving vehicles are not vulnerable to attacks using the Blue Link app, and a hacker would have to be near the owner of a targeted vehicle who is using the mobile app via an insecure WiFi connection, Beardsley said.

General Motors Co GM.N patched a similar bug in its OnStar vehicle communication system in 2015 that had the potential to let hackers break into cars.

Reporting by Morgan Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Jim Finkle, Leslie Adler and Jeffrey Benkoe