Maybe you have seen it on television or on the internet, or heard about it on the radio. It is the latest way computer hackers can make you have a very bad day. Over the last 25 years or so, manufacturers have computerized the braking system, the steering mechanisms, the shift and accelerating functions on American automobiles. Right, we are all aware of that, but what some do not know is that, currently, there are computer savvy folks who can actually, stop, steer, shut down, open the doors and drive away in our family vehicles.
As frightening as this is, more frightening is the fact that automobile makers are taking their time in updating and protecting their automobile computer security presence. General Motors and Ford have only said that they take the security of their vehicles very seriously. They have not yet said how they intend to remedy this problem which, assuredly, will not be going away quietly.
Toyota has stepped up to the plate to assure its customers that it is creating safeguards and is staying vigilant in their efforts to stay ahead of the hackers, even going so far as to say they already have in place programming to find and reject unsafe computer commands. Interestingly, the major car companies did not believe, at first, that hackers were capable of sabotaging their automobiles’ computer programming. Obviously, the fact has been proven. Steven Savage, a computer professor at University of California, San Diego, says that most common criminals will not have the computer intelligence to pull off the sophisticated driving interruptions (i.e. braking the car) as the computer experts have done. However, Savage has also said that the current onboard computer programs will make car theft increase enormously. Hacking into programs that unlock an automobile’s doors and start a car are much simpler and will enable thieves to steal cars and the car owner’s belongings quite easily.
Even more grave is the possibility of an increase in car cyber-attacks. Remote control of a car by someone with sinister motives has, in some cases, and will become more and more a new risk added to Americans growing list of vulnerabilities. Along with that is the growing possibility of being monitored while driving. The computer presence in automobiles at this time enables the government, insurance companies, those with ill intent, and any other person with the skills to do so to know all there is to know about the car’s owner. The driver’s privacy can, and in all probability will, be invaded.
Everyone is aware of the fact that an airplane has a Black Box that usually survives a crash and can be used to get information about the causes and factors involved in a crash. If all cars do not have a Black Box now, they almost certainly will in the very near future. Then, not only will the ability to analyze an accident be available, but so will the ability to alter the Black Box’s integrated information. Things could get very complicated.
Now that a car is little more than a rolling computer, the implications are enormous. Is there anything that can be done? Obviously, those who are trained and educated to do so are working on solutions. Recently, even the Pentagon has gotten involved and is generating a study which will begin to develop malware detection in automobiles. Researchers are on it and security and protection is being researched for the automobile industry’s problem. Still, it kind of makes us want to say, ”Here we go again”.
Jacob is an auto and tech enthusiast who works in a company in San Diego