Digital License Plates: A Convenient Future or a Hacker’s Dream?

Cars in a traffic jam in winter stock photo
Sergey Pavlov / iStock.com

There is no question that advances in digital information, artificial intelligence and complex data systems greatly improve our business and personal lives. But a digital shift also can create cyber threats and surveillance opportunities.

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In a time when consumers are already increasingly concerned about their privacy — and are especially anxious about the way sensitive personal data is collected, used and sold — we need the latest information technologies to be secure. And, when they’re not, consumers can often count on ethical “bug bounty hunters” (or white-hat hackers) to bring security weaknesses to light.

According to Vice, a group of researchers led by cybersecurity consultant Sam Curry recently exposed critical vulnerabilities in digital license plate technology after gaining “full super administrative access” to the network of the industry’s sole provider, Reviver.

Per Curry, once the team acquired access to Reviver’s network, the team was able to “access all user records, including what vehicles people owned, their physical address, phone number, and email address.” It was also able to update vehicle statuses, track GPS locations and manage customer and fleet accounts. Curry’s team was even in possession of the capability to change what the plates display.

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Since the fall of 2022, Sam Curry and likeminded specialists began researching the automotive industry and found a variety of vehicle vulnerabilities across a number of car companies. Kia, Honda, Infiniti, Nissan, Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Genesis, BMW, Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Ford, Porsche, Toyota, Jaguar and Land Rover, as well as Spireon’s GPS and SiriusXM systems, were all listed as having been susceptible to hacking in Curry’s report.

When presented with the hacked findings, Reviver took immediate action by meeting with a member of the research group. The digital license plate company then patched cybersecurity vulnerabilities in its application and “took further measures to prevent this from occurring in the future,” according to Car and Driver.

Reviver has been developing integrated hardware and software digital license plate technology since 2009. With an initial goal to “modernize and streamline the vehicle registration renewal process,” the company has expanded its vision to include additional licensing conveniences and personalization services for car owners.

According to the company site, Reviver’s consumer RPlates and commercial RFleet services are currently legal to purchase and register on vehicles in Arizona, California, Michigan and Texas (for commercial vehicles only). State legislation and pilot programs are ongoing in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and more.

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Being a digital service, a certain amount of tracking capability is to be expected with the new plates. Reviver even has the following security caveat on its site: “Please note, however, that no data transmission or storage can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As a result, while we strive to protect your information and privacy, we cannot guarantee or warrant the security of any information you disclose or transmit to the services.”

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However, while no customer was negatively affected by the vulnerability report, it’s important to remember that such a possibility exists for future breaches enacted by less scrupulous actors.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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