New Vehicle Security System Uses Auxiliary Power Outlet to Prevent Car Theft
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New Vehicle Security System Uses Auxiliary Power Outlet to Prevent Car Theft

Jun 25, 2023

A new vehicle security system called Battery Sleuth is being developed to combat the increasing vulnerability of cars to hacking and theft. The system bypasses wireless communication and the standardized onboard communication network used in today’s vehicles, instead authenticating drivers by measuring voltage fluctuations in a vehicle’s electrical system.

To interact with Battery Sleuth, drivers use a keypad device that is plugged into the auxiliary power outlet, commonly known as the cigarette lighter. The device delivers a predetermined series of voltage fluctuations, creating a “voltage fingerprint.” When the driver enters a numerical code into the keypad, the receiver recognizes the fingerprint and enables the vehicle to start.

The system can also manually deliver the voltage fluctuation using auxiliary functions that draw battery power, such as flicking the windshield wipers, turn signal, or headlights on and off, or locking and unlocking the doors.

Installed between the vehicle’s battery and its electrical system, Battery Sleuth’s default mode allows the battery to power electronics and lights but not the vehicle’s starter. It only activates the starter when it detects the pre-set series of voltage fluctuations in the electrical system.

Battery Sleuth also has defenses against hacking or physical attacks on the device itself. It includes a siren that sounds if illegitimate activity is detected and a resistor that shuts down the vehicle’s electrical system if an unauthorized power source is connected.

In a field test on eight vehicles, a prototype of Battery Sleuth proved to be more than 99.9% effective at detecting and preventing illegitimate activity without affecting normal vehicle operation. The researchers plan to conduct more extensive testing at the University of Michigan’s Mcity test facility.

The team hopes to have a commercially viable prototype at the end of the three-year project. The system could be scaled up for commercial production as a theft deterrent device and potentially as a complete vehicle entry and control system to replace traditional keys and fobs.

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation Division of Computer and Network Systems.