The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has alerted telecom consumers and members of the public to an ongoing cyber-vulnerability that allows a nearby hacker to unlock vehicles, start their engines wirelessly and make away with such vehicles.
It said that the fact that car remotes are categorised as short-range devices that make use of Radio Frequency (RF) to lock and unlock cars informed the need for the Commission to alert the general public on this danger, where hackers take advantage to unlock and start a compromised vehicle.
According to the latest advisory released by the Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT), the Cybersecurity Centre for the telecom sector established by the NCC, the vulnerability is a Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack or, more specifically, a replay attack, in which an attacker intercepts the RF signals normally sent from a remote key fob to the car, manipulates these signals, and re-sends them later to unlock the car at will.
The Commission said that with this latest type of cyber-attack, it is also possible to manipulate the captured commands and re-transmit them to achieve a different outcome altogether.
“Multiple researchers disclosed a vulnerability, which is said to be used by a nearby attacker to unlock some Honda and Acura car models and start their engines wirelessly.
“The attack consists of a threat actor capturing the radio frequency (RF) signals sent from your key fob to the car and resending these signals to take control of your car’s remote keyless entry system,” the advisory stated emphatically.
However, the NCC-CSIRT, in the advisory, has offered some precautionary measures that could be adopted by car owners to prevent falling victim to the attack.
According to the cyber-alert unit of the Commission, “When affected, the only mitigation is to reset your key fob at the dealership. Besides, the affected car manufacturer may provide a security mechanism that generates fresh codes for each authentication request, this makes it difficult for an attacker to ‘replay’ the codes thereafter.”
It said that vulnerable car users should store their key fobs in signal-blocking ’Faraday pouches’ when not in use.
Importantly, the Commission said those car owners in the stated categories are advised to choose Passive Keyless Entry (PKE) as opposed to Remote Keyless Entry (RKE), which would make it harder for an attacker to read the signal because criminals would need to be at proximity to carry out their nefarious acts.
It explained that the PKE is an automotive security system that operates automatically when the user is in proximity to the vehicle, unlocking the door on approach or when the door handle is pulled, and also locking it when the user walks away or touches the car on exit.
The RKE system, according to the Commission, on the other hand, represents the standard solution for conveniently locking and unlocking a vehicle’s doors and luggage compartment by remote control.
Additionally, in a related advisory, the NCC, based on another detection by CSIRT, informed the general public about the resurgence of Joker Trojan-Infected Android Apps on the Google Play Store.
This arose due to the activities of criminals who intentionally download legitimate apps from the Play Store, modify them by embedding the Trojan malware and then upload the app back to the Play Store with a new name.
It said that the malicious payload is only activated once the apps go live on the Play Store, which enables the apps to scale through Google’s strict evaluation process.
Once installed, these apps request permissions that once granted, enable the apps to have access to critical functions such as text messages and notifications.
As a consequence, it explained further that a compromised device will subscribe unwitting users to premium services, billing them for services that do not exist. A device like this can also be used to commit Short Messaging Service (SMS) fraud while the owner is unaware.
“It can click on online ads automatically and even use SMS One Time passwords (OTPs) to secretly approve payments. Without checking bank statements, the user will be unaware that he or she has subscribed to an online service. Other actions, such as stealing text messages, contacts, and other device data, are also possible,” the Commission said.
It warned that to avoid falling victim to the manipulation of hackers deploying Joker Trojan-Infected Android Apps, Android users must avoid downloading unnecessary apps or installing apps from unofficial sources.
Conclusively, the NCC recommended that unauthorised transactions be checked against any installed app.
“Indeed, any apps not in use should be deleted while users are also advised to ensure that a device is always patched and updated to the latest software,” the Commission said in a statement signed by Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, its Director of Public Affairs.