Automobiles are just so cool these days, aren’t they? With all those electronic devices, all connected to one another in some previously unthinkable fashion, you never have to be without pretty much anything as you drive from one place to another.
Of course, all of those electronic devices are hackable, so that’s a problem.
The interconnectivity of automobile parts, as well as the possibility of all cars linking to each other electronically, makes for exciting times in the creation and manufacture of futuristic automobiles. And the customers can’t wait to see what innovation is available to them in their next new car.
But cyber security experts are arguing over the safety of having so many electronic devices play such an important role in the operation of automobiles, because all of those electronics are hackable, even with the latest security devices available.
The threat became more real when Wired magazine conducted an experiment in which senior writer Andy Greenberg had two computer hackers attempt to affect his driving as he was operating his vehicle on a busy interstate in St. Louis. Greenberg lost control of the vehicle when the accelerator stopped working and the vehicle came to a complete stop.
The hackers not only stopped the car from 10 miles away, operating in Greenberg’s home, they also turned on the air conditioning to the maximum setting, changed the radio station and turned on the windshield wipers and wiper fluid dispensers.
Then, to top off the display of power, the two hackers appeared on the car’s video screen, waving at Greenberg as he tried to cope with all the new vehicle maneuvers.
“A nice touch, I thought,’’ Greenberg said in a story in the Washington Post.
Nice, because it was anticipated, and it was friendly computer fire. Not so friendly if it was done the way much computer hacking is done, to negatively affect those operating electronic devices and computer systems.
In February, Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey released a report titled “Tracking and Hacking: Security and Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk”, in which he interviewed representatives from 10 major car manufacturers about the safety of electronics in automobiles related to the threat of cyber-attacks.
In response to the report, ABC News interviewed Adam Levin, chairman and founder of credit security company IDT911, who said “Automobiles have become increasingly more connected, creating both opportunity as well as vulnerabilities through wireless networks.”
Soon, Tesla Motors plans to begin testing new vehicle-operating software called the Pilot system, which will allow all drivers to become riders on the highway in a hands-free automobile. But Tesla is now under pressure to prove its computer system cannot be hacked by someone who wants to drive the driverless car, only from a distance.
The electronic technology in automobiles is improving and changing at a staggering rate. Not only are new forms of entertainment and information being provided in dashboard video screens, but cars are now being loaded with collision warning devices. Many monitoring devices in automobiles are electronically controlled, and if they are interconnected thr0uough a computer system, they can be hackable.
Which would be worse, having a hacker send a message that something is wrong with your car when it isn’t, or a hacker disabling the warning system on your car so you don’t know when something is wrong?
“You are providing more service and more access,’’ said Saar Dickman, CEO of the Israeli-based automotive security technology company TowerSec in an interview with NBC News. “You want to embrace innovation, but you have to understand the risk that come with it.”
While federal regulators consider future vehicles to be able to speak to each other to provide information on traffic conditions, weather and road repairs, such interlinking complicates matters in protecting systems from computer hacking. Automobile drivers will likely be asked to pay for anti-spam and anti-virus software to protect their cars the way they protect information on their computers.
With all of the concerns being expressed about cyber-security for connected cars, CNBC contacted two experts in the matter, and both claimed the concern was overblown.
“I’m more afraid of someone texting and driving and running into me than someone hacking my car,’’ said IOActive director of vehicle security research Chris Valasek.
PKWARE CEO Miller Newton said issues related to wearables and connected medical devices are a greater concern than vehicles.
“I think about internal devices like pacemakers or external devices like insulin pumps,’’ Newton said. “All of those devices are networked that stream critical and life-saving information to the cloud. And that information is being streamed without being protected, and that’s really scary.”
So now we have that to worry about.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.