Monday, January 19, 2015

Someday Your Car Might Be Taken Over By Hackers

Imagine this:
Will hackers remotely be able to cause wrecks
by this by taking control of cars'
computer systems?  

You're zooming down a highway in lots of traffic, doing the speed limit of 65 mph.

All of a sudden, your brakes don't work. Your car speeds up even though you have your foot off the gas. The steering wheel swings back and forth wildly, sending you all over the road.

Worse, this is happening to the cars around you. There's a big pileup and lots of people die.

I know that's the plot of some bad science fiction/action movie, but it's a worse-case scenario of what could perhaps happen in the future, at least according to a Vox article called "The Next Frontier in Hacking: Your Car."

Cars are increasingly equipped with super duper navigation, and will integrate with cellphones wonderfully, and will have more and more self driving capabilities, says Vox.

There's already a LOT of computer stuff in cars, and they're starting to become prone to hacking.  Most of the computer components in the past have been internal, but they're increasingly being connected to the greater outside Internet, and that trend will probably just keep accelerating.

You can only hack into these cars if you had physical access to them, just as you would need physical access to cut the brake lines or steal the battery or something.

But already, cars are starting to become hackable without ever getting near the thing.

Says Vox about one Universityof California study of an unnamed late model car:

"They found it was alarmingly vulnerable to external attack.

In one attack, they created a malicious music file that, if played on the car's stereo, would let hackers gain control of the car's computer systems. In another, they demonstrated that they could hack into the diagnostic equipment used by auto mechanics using its wifi connection, and from there install malicious software onto vehicles being serviced."

Some of this is dangerous and not deadly. Hackers would be able to listen in on conversations going on in the car, or disable the locking system, making it super easy to steal the car.

Hackers are already close to being able to take control of cars, or are already there.  From a scary article from Forbes about how researchers showing they ways cars like a Ford Escape and Toyota Prius  can be hacked:

"As I drove their vehicles for more than an hour (Charlie) Miller and (Chris) Valasek showed that they've reverse-engineered enough of the software of the Escape and the Toyota Prius (both the 2010 model) to demonstrate a range of nasty surprises: Everything from annoyances like uncontrollably blasting the horn to serious hazards like slamming on the Prius' brakes at high speeds.

They sent commands from their laptops that killed power steering, spoofed the GPS and made pathological liars out of speedometers and odometers.

Finally, they directed me out to a country road, where Valasek showed that he could violently jerk the Prius' steering at any speed, threatening to send us into a cornfield or a head-on collision. 'Imagine you're driving down a highway at 80,' Valesek says. 'You're going into the car next to yoi or into oncoming traffic. That's going to be bad times.'"

Notice the cars in the above passage were 2010 models. I can only imagine new model cars, like, say my new 2015 Toyota Tacoma could be hacked even more readily or extensively.

The danger of getting yourself killed by a hacker is of course the biggest worry. But there are also fraud worries. They can adjust the odometer. They could also probably alter the computer to hide the fact the used car you're buying has been in a wreck or a flood in the past.

And what if your car is hacked, you steer into a car carrying a family. How do you prove you weren't at fault?

There haven't been many hacks of cars yet, Vox explains, because each model of car has custom software that changes year to year. So you can't get widespread hacks, and it's harder to catch up with the changes.

PCs and smartphones are easier to hack hecause they all have standard operating systems, Windows, Android or iOS. So a single piece of malware can screw up millions of devices, says Vox. Plus, PCs and smartphones are connected to the Internet much more than cars are.

But as automakers keep upping the ante on the sophistication of car systems, the more likely they'll be hooked up to the Internet, and run on more hackable Android, Windows or iOS systems.

Says Vox:

"In the next year or two, most car manufacturers are going to support Android Audio and Apple's Carpay - standards that allow smartphones to control a cars dashboard touchscreen display. These interfaces could provide another potential route for hacking."

Vox said automakers need to do comprehensive security audits of the cars' software as part of a vehicle's safety testing process.

But that's hard to do since the auto manufacturers can't even look at source codes.  Vox says "suppliers consider this proprietary information and guard it closely."

OK suppliers, what's more important? Keeping people safe or making bundles of money?

Oh, right. Making bundles of money.

We hope the the Society of Automotive Engineers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration go forward with new standards for cyber security in vehicles.

Meanwhile, Miller and Valasek, the guys in the Forbes article above, have a good idea, according to Wired:

"The hacker duo has created a prototype of an intrusion detection system for cars - a $150 device that plugs directly into a vehicle's network to monitor and block suspicious commands."

Nice idea, and it would help, but I bet it could get hacked, too.

To be fair, some car manufacturers are starting to get on board with security.

According to CNN Money, Ford hardware has built-in firewalls that stop malicious tampering, and the company has a team of hackers that are always looking for weaknesses.

Toyota has a similar "good guy and gal" hacking team. Also, says CNN Money, "Toyota embeds security chips in the tiny computers throughout the car, narrowing how they communicate and lessening the chance of outsider interference."

Which makes me feel a little better about my new Toyota Tacoma.

Still, all this stuff in cars makes me nervous. I guess it boils down to our increasing lack of ability to control things. I actually resent even simple things, like car windows that roll down electronically, instead of with a crank.

If the electrical system malfunctions and I have to get out, how do I do it? Should I just carry a crowbar in the truck always, just in case?

Now we have all these computer systems. Convenient and fun, yes. I'm no Luddite. But I still have misgivings about all this, since for me, the point of driving a vehicle is to get from Point A to Point B, not be entertained by glitzy bells and whistles.  

No comments:

Post a Comment