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Chargers for electric vehicles are easy target for cyber attacks

The popularity of electric vehicles and their greater presence on the road contributes to the increased need for chargers. Electric chargers come with a bunch of functionalities that need to be connected to the internet. Continuous monitoring of work, maintenance, billing, are great functionalities, but all devices connected to the Internet are susceptible to cyber attacks, and this is the case with charging stations.

A team of researchers from Elia Bowe-Harb of the University of Texas, Claude Fachka of the University of Dubai and Chadie Assi of the University of Montreal assessed the risk of cyber-attacks for electric vehicle chargers from 16 different manufacturers. Research shows the dangers of attacks on charging stations, and how to reduce these dangers.

List of EVCSMS products

Cyber ​​attacks on electric chargers

By abusing one or more faults in the charger management system, various abuses are possible. Some of the dangers refer to the stations themselves, some to the users, and some to the entire electricity network.

Safety vulnerabilities in each of the tested products

Manipulation with charging and setting

The investigation revealed security vulnerabilities that allow attackers to track charging schedules as well as manage operations. An attacker can start charging, delay charging, or stop charging altogether. The investigation showed that many of the chargers had inadequate “input sanitization” which further enabled “cross-site scripting” (XSS) and “cross-site request forgery” (CSRF) attacks.

Firmware Manipulation

Some electric vehicle chargers are subject to SQL injection (SQLi) attacks. This omission allows the attacker to gain access to the entire base of the charger management system. This way they can get administrator access data and then use it to change the station firmware.

Manipulation of collection

SQLi attacks can also allow a malicious attacker to manipulate recovery. The attacker can change the contents of the “sys_bill” and “sys_refund” tables. This can be used for the attacker to charge his vehicle for free or request a refund of “charges”.

“Recruitment” in botnets

Hackers can use compromised chargers as a coordinated botnet for Denial of Service (DoS) attacks or to research and find vulnerable networks and systems. Additionally, attackers can inject local IP addresses that allow them to find new devices on the network.

Denial of Service (DoS)

After gaining access to the charger management system, the attacker can block access to the users’ station. The attacker, due to the lack of a random validation token, can restart the station every 30 seconds. Thus, legitimate users will not have access to the charge.

Attacks on users

Attacks on users relate to users’ personal data and user filing records. This data can be collected, to make a map of the user’s movement, and the data can be used for blackmail, identity theft or harassment of victims. Almost all charging stations come with an online charge that opens up the possibility of payment fraud.

Attacks on the power grid

If the attacker manages to gain control of a large number of chargers, he will be able to use them for attacks that will disrupt the stability of the electrical network to which the chargers are connected. Simultaneous activation of many chargers will affect the stability of the electrical system. With a carefully selected charge activation time, in the transition period the frequency drops below 59.5Hz, destabilizing the entire network.

The second attack uses the function that allows electric vehicles to return some of the electricity to the grid. The purpose of this function is for the batteries of electric vehicles to be part of the energy system, and to be used as a backup when there is a lack of electricity in the system. The attack is actually the simultaneous activation of several vehicles in this mode which will destabilize the network. For now, this is only a theoretical possibility of attack because there are not many electric vehicles, so the network can easily absorb the increased amount of energy.

The last attack (Switching) is a combination of both attacks. The attacker combines the increased withdrawal of electricity from the chargers with the return of energy from the vehicles to the system and thus allows frequency instability in the network. In this case the attacker by turning the load on and off, and turning the discharge on and off, prevents the system from stabilizing the frequency.

Overcoming problems

Part of the research presents solutions that will overcome the problems. Of course, the main advice is to patch the security vulnerabilities that actually enable attacks. The danger of attacks on the electricity network is crucial. To overcome this danger, in addition to safety patches, experts advise to apply additional measures.

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