Smart Tech in Vehicles—Yes, There’s a Catch

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Remember our blog post about Internet technology integrating with new vehicles for smarter, more effective driving experiences? We were pretty excited about it, too. In our enthusiasm, we forgot to mention one tiny flaw in the prevalence of smart tech in new vehicles: many of them are wide, wide open to cyberattacks. And there’s proof.

With great tech comes great responsibility, and the increasing interconnectedness of wireless tech with vehicles on the road is no exception. Within the past five years, at least three groups of researchers have conducted experiments that definitively prove the vulnerability of smart-tech cars to malicious attacks.

The first experiment, in 2010, was conducted on a General Motors car. The university-funded hackers took control of the car’s cellular and Bluetooth connections, and were the first to shed light on the void where cybersecurity measures should have been.

More recently, Fiat Chrysler was obligated to recall 1.4 million Jeep Cherokees after a group of researchers hijacked a Jeep in St. Louis—all while comfortably sitting in a Pittsburgh living room. The video of the event is especially eye-opening. Although the driver of the car was fully aware that his colleagues were about to hack his vehicle, he still becomes visibly shaken up as the hackers put his dashboard, climate control system, windshield wipers and speakers into overdrive. Moreover, the hackers found that they could stop the vehicle, control the locks, disrupt the speedometer and disable the brakes. They reported being surprised by the amount of control that they had over the vehicle.

Even Tesla, one of the most technologically savvy car manufacturers in the world, recently learned that they are not immune to cyberattacks. From within a Tesla S vehicle, cybersecurity researchers were able to kill the engine at low speed, and eventually exposed six cybersecurity vulnerabilities in all. In response, Tesla released a software patch to fix the vulnerabilities.

But the industry will have to think in broader terms if they want to shield drivers from future malicious attacks that could lead to driver injuries or deaths. Experts say that car manufacturers should incorporate automatic Internet updates, much like a PC, to stay ahead of malware developments that could, potentially, compromise driver safety. At the moment, large-scale attacks remain an unlikely scenario, but the fact that exploitable security issues exist should be enough to give manufacturers pause. We love tech in luxury vehicles, but we hope leading manufacturers will incorporate cybersecurity into their vehicle designs as much as they incorporate physical safety measures.

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