Subscribe to Fourth Estate Watch our YouTube Channel Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook

Smarter cars are open for hackers to take the wheel

Tyler Smith, Opinion Editor
September 16, 2013
Filed under Opinion

Car companies need to step up their game on security measures after a group of computer experts demonstrated how to hack an automobile to control its brakes and steering.

According to Associated Press writer Tom Krisher, two cars were manipulated by plugging a laptop directly into a port beneath the dashboard that’s generally used by mechanics for diagnostics checks and, from there, were able to wreak havoc.

Furthermore, a group of computer experts were able to access the computers of a vehicle through Bluetooth connections via cellphone and even through the CD player, Krisher said.

“In recent demonstrations, hackers have shown they can slam a car’s brakes at freeway speeds, jerk the steering wheel and even shut down the engine — all from their laptop computers,” Krisher said.

Forbes staff member Andy Greenberg, a technology, privacy and information security reporter, wrote on the topic of the recently revealed car hacking as well as his experience in a demonstration.

“The more I pound the pedal, the louder the groan gets along with the delighted cackling of the two hackers sitting behind me in the backseat,” Greenberg said.

According to Krisher, the individuals behind the investigative hacks are Charlie Miller, security engineer for Twitter, and Chris Valasek, the director of intelligence at a computer security consulting firm.

Miller and Valasek were given a grant for more than $80,000 from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Pentagon in order to investigate automobile security, Greenberg said.

If there is a plus side, it did take months for anyone involved to manage to hack a car, and no actual crimes involving remotely taking over the controls of a vehicle have occurred, Krisher said.

Almost everything is going to be computer-based and linked whether it’s through wireless networking, Bluetooth or satellite, and everything is fallible. Systems can be exploited, as these computer experts have shown by cracking the vehicles we as consumers take for granted.

Now imagine the day when cars are completely automated. Do I think there is a serious threat in the near future? No. However, auto makers would be complete idiots to simply ignore or downplay these types of findings rather than go the extra mile to ensure the safety of the masses.

According to writer Seth Rosenblatt of CNET, owned by CBS, Miller and Valasek presented their research with a software hacker of Cannytophic Design who goes by the alias Zoz, at the hacker conference Defcon in August.

During this presentation, Zoz spoke of the possibility of future self-driving cars being susceptible to hacks that affect any number of sensors, such as GPS, that help the machine navigate, Rosenblatt said.

Ford said they take hackers seriously, but Toyota claimed real car hacking wouldn’t require physical access and the company already tests against wireless attacks, Greenberg said.

In the meantime, Miller and Valasek have documented approximately 101 pages of code and data on their exploits of Toyota and Ford’s cars and have presented their information at Defcon with Zoz in order to prevent malicious attacks in the future, Rosenblatt said.

Car makers need to listen to the professionals who have taken the time to exploit security measures that one day may pose a danger to drivers. I refuse to drive a vehicle that requires less of me and more of a machine to perform all of the complexities of everyday driving. I am not so lazy as to need a car to drive me, nor do I have the trust to give that much control to a system that is just as susceptible to outside influence as any other computer.