Are Automotive Digital Keys Really Secure? Expert Opinions and Latest Developments

The Safety and Security of Automotive Digital Keys


In recent years, digital keys for vehicles have become increasingly common. Drivers can now unlock and start their cars with just a tap or a swipe on their smartphones or smartwatches. This convenience, however, has also raised concerns about the security of these keys.

How Automotive Digital Keys Work

Most automotive digital key technology relies on near-field communication and Bluetooth low-energy technology. This allows drivers to store their digital keys on their connected devices, granting them control over their cars’ access and usage.

The Car Connectivity Consortium

The Car Connectivity Consortium is a group of 200 members consisting of most automakers. Their goal is to “future-proof vehicle access using smart devices”. This consortium includes major companies such as Apple, Google, Hyundai, and Volkswagen.

Concerns About Security

While the software and safeguards for digital keys have advanced significantly, cybersecurity experts still question whether they are as secure as the industry claims. Recent car thefts targeting new cars with keyless systems that were hacked using relay attacks or “key cloning” demonstrate how the industry underestimates vehicle security. However, automotive cybersecurity experts are making efforts to address these issues and have produced essential concepts for key management.

The Arms Race Between Car Thieves, Hackers, and Automakers

Car thieves and hackers are always devising a new way of breaking into vehicle security systems, and automakers are working hard to keep their vehicles secure. Authentication and encryption for the digital messaging between a car’s door and engine are necessary to defeat these CAN injection attacks. Some experts suggest having a credential or token system to enhance security.

The Future of Digital Keys

Digital keys could be vulnerable in the future. Sick Codes, a white hat hacker, believes that a digital key could be hacked from the backend or a server. Besides, digital keys are little more than a data play by automakers to create additional revenue streams. Despite concerns, experts agree that automotive digital keys provide more convenience than traditional keys, reflecting the future of automotive technology.

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