Carjacking Enters the Computer Age

When you think of computer hacking you usually don’t associate that kind of high-tech invasion activity with the automobile industry. That perception may change in the near future.

Not long ago some talented hackers took over the controls of a Jeep Cherokee while it was moving at 70 miles per hour. The hackers were about 10 miles from the Jeep.

Using just a laptop computer, they penetrated the Jeep’s Internet-controlled infotainment system and fooled with the vehicle’s air conditioning, radio, windshield wipers, brakes and steering.

A week later there was a cyber attack targeting General Motors’ OnStar infotainment system.

Security patch offered

These incidents sent shock waves through the industry. Fiat Chrysler quickly offered a security patch on its website and recalled 1.4 million vehicles made in 2013-15 to put in protective software.

In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is taking a long look at Harman Kardon, which makes the Jeep UConnect system and similar products for other car companies.

Cars are now basically computers on wheels and have been for some time. The trend will only accelerate from here. Many cars have wireless connectivity such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

All well and good if you want to hook up with cell phones and tablets. The problem is that these technological advances also make the cars vulnerable to security breaches.

What the car makers are now in a hurry to make available to its customers is the capability to update a car’s computer system remotely so that costly recalls are not needed.

Bug bounties being paid

The manufacturers are also offering so-called “bug bounties,” whereby outside technology wizards are paid handsomely to find breaches in the vehicular connectivity systems.

Tesla, for example, the California-based maker of electric cars, asks people outside the company to probe for vulnerabilities in its systems. The company does not say how much it might pay for such information but it does have a security vulnerability reporting policy posted on its website.

The site also has a Tesla Security Research Hall of Fame where 24 people are recognized for their contributions.

While private industry initiatives to address the problem of vehicular cyber security are in full swing, there is little doubt that the U.S. government will get involved at some point.

Federal legislation that will try to protect consumers from automobile-related hacks is just down the road.

Add Comment