Will Charging Station Cyberattacks Impact the EV Boom?

During a recent get-together, my friend arrived late. She apologized, quickly explaining that she’d had trouble finding a charging station for her electric vehicle (EV). While she knew where the stations in her hometown were, she couldn’t easily find them on the road. This piqued my curiosity, and I began asking her questions about EVs and, most importantly, about charging them.

Our household had been considering buying an EV, but we were concerned about just this type of issue with charging. The news of President Biden’s plan to create a nationwide charging network made us more confident in purchasing an EV. Recent news of cyberattacks, however, has made us cautious again. Even though we want the benefits of an EV for both the environment and our budget, the primary goal of a car is to get from point A to point B. For EV drivers everywhere, being able to safely and easily charge an EV is a top priority.

Recent Attacks Target Charging Stations

UtilityDive recently reported numerous cyberattacks at EV charging stations. In Russia, attacks disabled many stations while the stations’ video displays showed unkind (to put it nicely) messages about Vladimir Putin. Last spring, electric car owners wanting to charge their batteries at one of three publicly owned charging stations on the Isle of Wight in the U.K. got more than they bargained for — a porn video at the station. While these attacks didn’t cause significant damage, they demonstrated that hackers could infiltrate charging stations. In the future, they could leave malicious code instead of committing mildly disruptive attacks.

The Carlos Alvarez College of Business’s Department of Information Systems and Cyber Security also found vulnerabilities during a study of charging stations. Evaluating 16 charging systems, researchers discovered 13 areas of significant security concerns and vulnerabilities. Concerns included missing authentication and cross-site scripting, which puts malicious code into scripts and can launch cybersecurity attacks.

Researchers noted that they were concerned about cybersecurity criminals being able to steal credentials and access user data. Other vulnerabilities included the ability to manipulate the firmware, which then allows criminals to launch more sophisticated attacks. Recommendations from the study included creating a process to identify and patch vulnerabilities at the station. It also recommended building security into the charging stations during manufacturing.

EV Adoption Soared in Recent Years

Sales of EVs have significantly increased over the past couple of years. During 2022 Q3, EVs accounted for 6% of all new car sales compared to 2% in 2020 Q3. During the same time period, total deliveries of Teslas were 131,000 in the U.S. and the non-Tesla U.S. EV sales exceeded 70K. EY also predicts there will be more than 85 million electric vehicles in the United States and Canada by 2035.

The many benefits of EVs are enticing to consumers. While the purchase price of these vehicles is higher, tax credits and incentives can offset some costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the high efficiency of electric-drive components significantly reduces fuel costs. Some EVs exceed 130 mpge (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent) and can drive 100 miles consuming only 25-40 kWh. For example, an EV 2021 Toyota Camry gets 52 mpge compared to a conventional Camry’s 34 mpge. EVs convert over 77% of the electrical energy from the grid to power the car.

While gas savings is a big reason for EV purchases, electric cars have many other benefits as well. Consumers find EVs appealing because they do not produce polluting tailpipe emissions, thus reducing carbon footprints. Owners also report that EVs have better performance, including a quieter and smoother drive. In addition, EVs accelerate faster and require less maintenance than vehicles with traditional gas-fueled engines.

Charging Access a Top Concern

Although adoption has increased, many people considering an EV are waiting because of certain concerns or are unable to find a vehicle to purchase. Adoption has been a bit slower due to several factors, including a low supply of electric vehicles as a result of the pandemic-related chip shortage and supply chain issues.

Many consumers are also concerned about driving range. Deloitte found that 20% of consumers electing to not purchase an EV did so because of the limited driving range, which is often only 100 miles per charge. Drivers must find a charging station before the charge expires and wait for the battery to recharge before continuing.

Both manufacturers and consumers are concerned about the number of EV cars needing charging stations compared to vehicles on the road. According to EY, 88% of EV owners have access to residential charging but need access to public charging on a round trip over 100 miles. EY also found that the U.S. will need 3 million public charging stations by 2030 and 8 million by 2035 to meet the demand on the road. This is a nine-fold increase in current public charging stations.

Impact of Hacks on EV Purchases

The current issues with cyberattacks on charging stations may have a short-term impact on EV purchases. With consumers already concerned about the access to public charging stations and the shortage of stations compared to demand, any issue that makes charging an EV vehicle harder is likely to be a roadblock (pun intended), especially for those on the fence. While the recent attacks did not have a severe impact, they did take the charging stations offline. This further limited the ability of consumers to charge their cars.

EV makers and charging station manufacturers need to address the cybersecurity issue with charging stations. By creating standard security protocols for charging stations, the industry can improve the overall security for drivers in terms of protecting themselves and their vehicles, as well as ensure that charging stations are not out of operation from an attack. Additionally, the EV industry needs to create standard protocols for the networks and connectivity used by local and state municipalities for charging stations, as well as standard processes to ensure security patches are routinely applied.

Electric vehicles offer a solution to many current challenges, including costs for consumers and environmental issues. By quickly and proactively addressing the cybersecurity of charging stations, the EV industry can remove that concern for consumers.

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