- Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have demonstrated security vulnerabilities in the most common electric vehicle (EV) charging equipment, proving it is possible for hackers to disrupt charging using low-cost hardware and software.
- SwRI said it was able to perform three manipulations: limiting charge rates, blocking a vehicle from charging, and overcharging its battery. The vulnerabilities are concerning, but unlikely to slow EV adoption rates in the near term, according to experts.
- EV market share is expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, and a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) concludes charging infrastructure is expanding to meet demand. Public electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) grew 7.6% in the first quarter of this year, compared with the previous quarter, according to NREL.
Global EV market share could grow to 30% by 2030 "in all modes except two-wheelers," according to the International Energy Agency. With that growth will come new electric grid vulnerabilities, according to experts.
Addressing these vulnerabilities will require an "industry-wide consensus among various stakeholders," according to Yury Dvorkin, an assistant professor in NYU Tandon's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. That will include utilities, car and charger markers, providers of charging services, and EV drivers, he said in an email.
Dvorkin has previously published research on the potential for a simultaneous hack of multiple EV chargers to cause a grid disruption.
Engineers at SwRI say they were able to reverse engineer signals and circuits on an EV and the most common interface for managing charging in North America, to disrupt charging "with a spoofing device developed in a laboratory using low-cost hardware and software."
“The project effectively tricked the test vehicle into thinking it was fully charged and also blocked it from taking a full charge,” SwRI engineer Austin Dodson, who led the research, said in a statement. “This type of malicious attack can cause more disruption at scale.”
The project was designed to identify potential threats in common charging hardware as widespread EV adoption nears and more charging locations are developed.
"Since about 2011, we've seen strong year-over-year growth in charging infrastructure," Abby Brown, a project manager in NREL's Sustainable Transportation Integration group, said in a statement.
Between December of 2015 and 2019, the number of charging stations in the United States doubled, Brown said. "It was much the same in early 2020: more growth in all parts of the country."
According to NREL's new report, in the first quarter of this year, all EVSE categories saw growth.
Public EVSE, which refers to individual outlets at a charging station, grew 7.6% since the last quarter, according to NREL data. Direct Current Fast Chargers "made up the largest piece of the pie" and expanded by 10.6% over the same time period, said researchers.
There was 3.2% growth among private EVSE, including charging for transit fleets or a company's employees only.
Despite the demonstrated vulnerabilities in some of this equipment, Dvorkin said he doesn't think it will slow the adoption of EVs, "at least near-term."
"And that is something that keeps me awake at nights: charging demand will unavoidably increase and we have no means of securing this process against dilettante attacks," Dvorkin said. "Which means it is a matter of time until some adversary — foreign or domestic, state or non-state — will take advantage of it."