Sandia National Labs raises concerns over cybersecurity of electric car chargers

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – With gas prices getting higher and higher, electric vehicles are surging in popularity.

But, some concerns have been raised if our infrastructure is ready, and while most of those concerns have centered on our power grid – the folks at Sandia National Laboratories are raising the alarm about something else.

After publishing their research, the cybersecurity experts at Sandia National Labs want more safeguards to be put in place, because if the chargers get hacked it could mean more than just taking someone’s credit card information.

There are multiple electric car charging stations across Albuquerque from the BioPark to Walmart, there are even some free ones downtown. Most drivers of electric cars don’t think twice when they plug in their car, especially in terms of cybersecurity.

“I haven’t given it much additional thought when it comes to additional protect or encryption,” said Joseph Griego, electric vehicle driver. 

But researchers at Sandia National Labs have found some major issues when it comes to securing these charging stations.

“There are things like insecure firmware update processes, there are challenges with local web interfaces and vulnerabilities that exist in those. You can see some of these devises have Wi-Fi access points that allow you to connect with your smart phone and configure the charger to do certain things,” said Sandia National Labs Cybersecurity Researcher Jay Johnson. 

While we haven’t had any major cyberattacks in the U.S., hackers overseas have brought some charging grids to their knees. 

“An interesting example of this is there is an M11 motorway that ran from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and during the start of the conflict with Russia and Ukraine there were Ukrainian parts inside these electric vehicle chargers on this Russian motorway, and the Ukrainians were able to disable those chargers and display anti-Putin, pro-Ukraine messages on them,” said Johnson.  

Other hackers could steal passwords and credit card information, or they could turn off a whole bunch of chargers at once sending shock waves through power grids.

“The power grid operates where you need to provide a certain amount of generation to meet load, so if that load is suddenly disconnecting EV chargers all at the same time that changes significantly, and your generation needs to rapidly readjust, or you will have swings in frequency on the power grid,” Johnson said. 

So now the question Sandia Labs and their partners are asking is, will this cybersecurity regulation come from the federal government or from individual states?

“Right now in the U.S. we do not have those requirements, but it seems like there is an appetite to implement them because of vulnerabilities we have discovered,” Johnson said. 

But in the meantime drivers are hoping these chargers will keep them on the road.

“I mean I hope this doesn’t become a problem because otherwise I have been very happy with the electric vehicle,” said Griego.

The researchers behind this study are hoping these regulations are put into place soon because $7.5 billion from President Biden’s infrastructure bill will be going towards installing more charging stations along interstates across the county.