Low-level Attacks#

The Low-level attacks can be separated into two groups:

  • Message injection: Sending CAN frames to influence ECU behavior

  • CAN-frame tampering: Altering CAN frames while they are being sent by other ECUs

The message injection is possible by having control over a ECU or microcontroller in the network with a CAN controller. This can be achieved bei either getting access to a ECU other a different vulnerability or by physically connecting a microcontroller to the bus. For CAN-frame tampering a direct access to GPIOs to the CANbus is needed, which is often only possible by adding a microcontroller to the bus. (see CAN-frame tampering)

Message injection#

The following attacks focus on the arbitration mechanism or the message queues of the ECU to disrupt the CAN-bus.

Bus Flood Attack#


  • Denial-of-Service attack

  • Flooding the bus with highest priority frames that have a CAN-ID = 0

  • All other messages are suppressed, because of CDMA/CR

  • Doable with a microcontroller and low-level CAN access

  • Difficult from Linux Userland and through USB-CAN interfaces, because OS delay results in less sent messages

  • Easy detectable by IDS

sock = CANSocket("can0")
msg = CAN(identifier=0, data=b'12345678')

Simple frame spoofing#


  • Send fake data more often than the legitimate sender

  • Fake- and legitimate frames are not synchronized

  • ECU may also receive legitimate frames

  • Fake- and legitimate frames can clash

  • Easy detectable by IDS

sock = CANSocket("can0")
msg = CAN(identifier=0x123, data=b'fakedata')

Adaptive frame spoofing#


  • Send fake data immediately after a correct frame is sent

  • CAN-Controllers will update message boxes

  • If a host isn’t fast enough, fake data is read

  • Easy to pull off since message sending in the car is extremely deterministic, e.g. messages are sent every 50ms, 100ms, …

  • Easy detectable by IDS

sock = CANSocket("can0")
msg = CAN(identifier=0x123, data=b'fakedata')
    rx = sock.recv()
    if rx.identifier == 0x123:

Fig. 23 Adaptive frame spoofing attack. Author: Dr. Ken Tindell#

CAN-frame tampering#

To understand CAN-frame tampering attacks on CAN-Networks, it’s crucial to be aware of MCU internal interconnection of the CAN peripherals to GPIOs. As shown in the figure below, a GPIO can be mapped to different internal peripheral devices in the MCU. For normal operations, an external GPIO pin is always connected to the CAN-RX and CAN-TX signals of the CAN-peripheral (CAN-transceiver). This configuration limits the possible low-level attacks since an attacker can’t control the GPIO pin directly. Many of the following attacks are only possible if the GPIO pins are disconnected from the intern CAN-peripheral and directly controlled by the CPU, which executes an attacker’s code.


Fig. 24 Generic GPIO. Source: Microchip PIC18F27/47/57Q84 Datasheet#


Fig. 25 CANFD Peripheral. Source: Microchip PIC18F27/47/57Q84 Datasheet#


Fig. 26 CAN FD Transceiver. Source: Automotive CAN FD Transceiver TCAN1057AV-Q1 Datasheet#

Error Passive Spoofing Attack#


  • Drive the TEC of the targeted ECU above 127 to enter error passive mode

  • After the targeted ECU leaves the error passive and tries to send a frame, inject a new error

  • Targeted ECU stays recessive up on a new error

  • Attacker can override data and CRC

  • This attack can not be detected by simpler IDS systems

  • The attacker requires low-level access to CAN pins


Fig. 27 Hijacking a frame from a device in the error passive state. Author: Dr. Ken Tindell#

Bus-off Attack#

[Tin19] [CS16]

  • Drive the TEC of the targeted ECU above 255 to enter Bus Off mode

  • Targeted ECU will stop sending any frame → DoS

  • The attacker can send any data and will not be interrupted by the legitimate ECU

  • The attacker requires low-level access to CAN pins

  • Kulandaivel et al. used this attack combined with statistical analysis for CAN mapping [KGAS19].

    • Monitoring all CAN frames

    • Sending one ECU into Bus-off mode by attacking one specific identifier

    • This ECU will not send any CAN message, even if the identifier would be different

    • Monitoring the new state of the CAN bus

    • Comparison reveals all CAN identifiers of the attacked ECU


  • Attacks that do not require low-level CAN access are easy to detect by IDS / IPS

  • Attacks with low-level CAN access require the highest execution privileges on an attacked ECU and detailed knowledge about the used MCU, the pinout, and the connections to CAN transceivers

  • Low-level attacks don’t affect outer CAN domains, separated by a gateway ECU

  • SecOC will prevent frame tampering