Increasingly, computers control almost every function of newer model cars. Computer chips control braking, acceleration, airbags and can even detect oncoming dangers and maneuver to avoid them. Few folks have a clue about how much they depend on the computers to control almost every aspect of their vehicles. Stephan A. Tarnutzer, chief operating officer for DGE Inc., which provides electronic designs and consulting for auto manufacturers and suppliers, had this to say:
Because they are hidden, people don’t often understand that there can be anywhere from 30 to 40 microprocessors in most cars and even up to 100 different ones running different functions in some vehicles.
But could a hacker compromise the computers in your car? Several months ago, CBS News’ “60 Minutes” aired a segment showing how vehicles can be subject to remote hacking. The “60 Minutes” report came just before a Congressional report was published on the vulnerability of cars to hacking through the wireless networks that could jeopardize driver safety and privacy.
We have come to depend on computers in almost every conceivable manner possible. As vehicles grow increasingly connected through wireless networks and become more dependent on sophisticated electronic systems, Congress and federal regulators are concerned about the potential for hackers to interfere with vehicle functions.
The report overseen by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, says vehicles are vulnerable to hacking through wireless networks, smartphones, infotainment systems like OnStar even a malicious CD popped into a car stereo. Sen. Markey cited studies showing hackers can get into the controls of some popular vehicles. He stated:
This caused cars to suddenly accelerate, turn, kill the brakes, activate the horn, control the headlights, and modify the speedometer and gas gauge readings. Additional concerns came from the rise of navigation and other features that record and send location or driving history information.
Drivers have come to rely on these new technologies, but unfortunately the automakers haven’t done their part to protect us from cyber attacks or privacy invasions. The technology systems and data security in our cars and trucks remain largely unprotected, according to the reports. The following are two examples of how hacking is a big-time problem:
One example of concerns of potential hacking, BMW AG said it had fixed a security flaw that could have allowed up to 2.2 million vehicles to have their doors remotely opened by hackers. The automaker now encrypts transmissions between cellphones and cars; the update was completed last month. In another instance, a disgruntled former employee took over a Web-based vehicle-immobilization system at an Austin, Texas, car sales center, and suddenly more than 100 drivers found their vehicles had been disabled or their horns were honking out of control.
Researchers from the University of South Carolina and Rutgers University were able to hack into tire pressure monitoring systems. Using readily available equipment and free software, the researchers triggered warning lights and remotely tracked a vehicle through its unique monitoring system. Researchers at the University of Washington and University of San Diego created a program that would hack into onboard computers to disable brakes and stop the engine. The researchers connected to onboard computers through ports for the cars’ diagnostic system.
All of the above is very scary. As usual, automobile manufacturers are woefully behind in implementing failsafes to prevent hacking. Sean Kane, President of Massachusetts-based Safety Research and Strategies, said there has been a “stunning lack of foresight” by regulators to ensure that cars are safe and secure. Mr. Kane added:
Look how many of the last year’s recalls related to electronic issues … it’s not going to be that far along whole generations of vehicles that could be vulnerable … it’s not sci-fi. Some 2014 models use 2G technology, he said, that could be a wide open door to hackers.
The issue could be even more important as future vehicles communicate with one another through “vehicle to vehicle” technology to prevent crashes, but could also be at risk of hacking. Markey said government and automotive industry officials need to work with cyber-security experts “to establish clear rules of the road, not voluntary agreements” to ensure the safety and privacy of 21st-century American drivers.”
Sen. Markey cited a 2013 study funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It found researchers could tap into vehicles’ electronic systems through a laptop computer connected by a cable. In initial tests on two 2010 vehicles from different automakers, they were able to do everything from cause the cars to accelerate and turn, to disable brakes and blow the horn. Sen. Markey said some security measures used by automakers, ID numbers and radio frequencies, can be identified and rewritten or bypassed.
The “60 Minutes” segment showed a researcher with a laptop hacking into a new car, turning on windshield wipers, sounding the horn, deactivating brakes, as correspondent Lesley Stahl was unable to stop in a parking lot. In response to these reports, Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and others, said automakers believe strong consumer data privacy protections and strong vehicle security are essential. He added:
Auto engineers incorporate security solutions into vehicles from the very first stages of design and production and security testing never stops. The industry is in the early stages of establishing a voluntary automobile industry sector information sharing and analysis center or other comparable program for collecting and sharing information about existing or potential cyber-related threats.
Automakers noted that the Society of Automotive Engineers has created a Vehicle Electrical System Security Committee to draft standards that help ensure electronic control system safety. In November, two major auto trade associations representing nearly all automakers unveiled a set of principles to protect driver privacy and security.
Sen. Markey wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), working with the Federal Trade Commission, to set standards to protect the data, security and privacy of drivers. NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said that the agency is “engaged in an intensive effort to determine potential security vulnerabilities related to new technologies and will work to ensure that manufacturers cooperate and address issues in order to keep motorists safe.” Let’s hope that NHTSA and the automobile manufacturers are sincere in their efforts to urgently address these security concerns.
Source: The Detroit News- “Report: Cars are vulnerable to wireless hacking” by Shepardson (Feb. 8, 2015).
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.