Penetration testing for EV charging software

21 MARCH 2024 • 8 MIN READ

Piotr Majcher



Penetration testing for EV charging software

While our CPO platform has successfully undergone penetration testing a while ago already, we thought it might be a good idea to shed some more light on the topic of such procedures within the eMobility software sphere, as it’s not really covered that much. Meanwhile, eMobility's reliance on interconnected software and hardware systems exposes it to unique cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Cybersecurity Challenges in eMobility

Electric vehicles require regular charging, available both at home and public stations, with the latter posing a higher hacking risk. Unlike fueling internal combustion engine vehicles, which is a simple transaction, EV charging involves direct data exchange between the vehicle and the charger. This connectivity opens ways for potential hackers to infiltrate and exploit these interactions.

This scenario unfolds when cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in the software or firmware of EV charging stations to gain unauthorized access. Once inside, they could manipulate charging rates, interrupt power supply, or even install ransomware, causing significant operational disruptions. The implications of such attacks are far-reaching, affecting not only the direct users of the compromised chargers but also the broader power grid, which could suffer from stability issues due to erratic charging patterns.

Generally, there are a few main areas that could fall victim to malicious intent.

Data Privacy and Integrity

At the heart of eMobility systems are vast amounts of data encompassing user behavior, payment information, vehicle telemetry, and charging habits. This data, essential for operational efficiency and personalized services, becomes a prime target for cyberattacks. Unauthorized access or manipulation of this data can lead to privacy breaches, financial fraud, and trust erosion among users.

Communication Network Vulnerabilities

eMobility ecosystems heavily rely on communication networks that link vehicles, charging stations, and backend systems. These networks, often encompassing Wi-Fi or near-field communication (NFC) technologies, can be exploited by hackers. For instance, man-in-the-middle attacks can intercept data transfers, while denial-of-service attacks can disrupt charging station operations.

Physical Security of Charging Stations

Charging stations, as the physical touchpoints of the eMobility infrastructure, pose significant security risks. These stations, if compromised, can be used as entry points to the broader network. Cybercriminals could exploit vulnerabilities to manipulate charging processes, disable stations, or even use these points for broader network intrusions.

Potential Threat to Power Grid

Hacking EV chargers can also pose threats to the power grid by allowing cybercriminals to manipulate charging behaviors and create instability. If hackers gain control over multiple chargers, they could orchestrate synchronized charging or discharging actions, leading to sudden surges or drops in electricity demand. This manipulation could disrupt the balance between supply and demand in the power grid, potentially causing localized or widespread blackouts.

Past incidents

While chargers hacking is not a common occurrence, there are some incidents that have already made the news with regards to ill-intended tampering with charging infrastructure. The first that comes to mind is when during the early stages of the conflict in Ukraine, hackers manipulated charging stations along the Moscow–Saint Petersburg motorway in Russia to display anti-Putin messages to users.

More recently, The Office for Product Safety and Standards in the UK notified Wallbox, the maker of the Copper SB electric car charger, that its product fails to meet existing cybersecurity regulations because of a hardware and operating system limitation, which could make it easier to hack.

Pen Test Partners, in their investigation, have also managed to identify and pinpoint numerous weak points.

Introduction to penetration testing

Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a critical element in the cybersecurity domain, often termed ethical hacking. Its core objective is to identify and exploit system vulnerabilities to assess the robustness of security measures. This methodical process simulates cyberattacks targeting various components like computer systems, networks, or web applications, aiming to uncover any weak spots that could be leveraged by malicious entities.

Unlike traditional cybersecurity strategies that emphasize preventive and detective controls, penetration testing adopts a proactive and aggressive stance. It delves deep into the system to discover potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers, providing an invaluable perspective on the security landscape of the system.

The practice of penetration testing is categorized into three primary types, each differing by the level of knowledge pre-disclosed to the testers:

  • Black-box testing: In this approach, testers enter the scenario with no prior information about the system's infrastructure, mimicking an external cyberattacker's perspective. This lack of insider information means testers experience and interact with the system in the same way a real attacker would, ensuring that the assessment is unbiased and reflects potential external threats accurately.
  • White-box testing: This type stands in contrast to black-box testing, offering complete transparency of the system's network and infrastructure to the testers. Such openness allows for an in-depth evaluation of the internal workings, including security protocols, system design, and the codebase. This comprehensive insight aids in pinpointing specific vulnerabilities and understanding how different elements of the system interconnect and affect overall security.
  • Gray-box testing: Serving as a middle ground, gray-box testing equips the tester with limited system knowledge, similar to what a privileged user might possess. This partial insight facilitates a more nuanced assessment, enabling the identification of both external and internal security threats. By blending the external viewpoint of black-box testing with the detail-oriented approach of white-box testing, gray-box testing offers a balanced and comprehensive analysis of the system's security posture.

By understanding and employing these different types of penetration testing, organizations can significantly enhance their cybersecurity defenses, ensuring they are well-equipped to protect against and respond to potential cyber threats effectively.

Pentests for EV charging software

Penetration testing offers numerous benefits for electric vehicle charging software, including Charge Point Operator platforms and eMobility Service Provider applications. Firstly, it enhances security by identifying and addressing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers, thus reducing the risk of data breaches and cyberattacks. This proactive approach helps in maintaining the integrity and availability of charging infrastructure, ensuring reliable service for users. By identifying potential security loopholes that could lead to unauthorized access or data leakage, penetration testing ensures that sensitive information, such as payment details, personal identifiers, and vehicle data, is safeguarded against cyber threats, thus minimizing the risk of identity theft,

Secondly, penetration testing builds trust among customers and stakeholders by demonstrating a commitment to cybersecurity. This is crucial for user retention and attracting new customers in the competitive eMobility market. By ensuring the security of CPO platforms and EMSP apps, providers can protect user data, including payment information and personal details, bolstering consumer confidence in their services.

Furthermore, regular penetration testing helps in compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards, which are increasingly stringent in the eMobility sector. This compliance not only mitigates legal and financial risks but also positions the organization as a leader in cybersecurity within the eMobility industry.

In addition, penetration testing provides insights into the security posture of the software, allowing for better resource allocation and investment in cybersecurity measures. It helps in prioritizing the security needs, focusing on areas with critical vulnerabilities, and enhancing the overall resilience of the system against cyber threats.

Conclusion and Future Outlook

As eMobility continues to evolve, with advancements in technology and increasing adoption, the cybersecurity landscape will also shift, presenting new challenges and threats. Penetration testing will remain a cornerstone in the defense strategy, adapting to counter these evolving threats effectively.

Looking ahead, the integration of more advanced technologies like AI and machine learning in penetration testing processes will likely enhance the detection and mitigation of cybersecurity threats. Additionally, regulatory bodies may impose stricter cybersecurity guidelines and standards for the eMobility sector, further emphasizing the need for robust penetration testing practices.