Hacking: Coming to a vehicle near you?

via Moak: Hacking — coming to a vehicle near you?, on clarionledger.com, 8/6/2015.

It was fun to watch…at first. As Wired magazine’s Andy Greenberg drove a Jeep Cherokee near downtown St. Louis at about 70 mph, the radio began blaring at full volume seemingly on its own, the air conditioner blasted icy air without anyone touching the controls, and the windshield wipers and washers turned on. Then, it got scary. Suddenly, the engine died, and as Greenberg attempted to navigate the vehicle up a hill while bleeding off speed, a semi truck loomed behind.

Fortunately for Greenberg, it turned out OK. It was part of a demonstration of how a vehicle can be remotely hacked. Two hackers were demonstrating just how easy it is to take control of a vehicle remotely. And people have taken notice; the Internet is still buzzing about Greenberg’s report, and what it could mean for the future of automobiles.

Today’s vehicles have so much imbedded technology that it provides hackers with the potential to do real harm if they can take control of vehicles remotely. Tech-heavy features such as assisted parking, automatic cruise control and systems that are linked to the Internet could provide more opportunities for future hackers to gain a foothold.

Recently, Kelley Blue Book (a leading source of auto industry information) conducted a study about whether – and if so, how much – people are worried about the potential for vehicle hacking. The study found that nearly 80 percent of consumers believe hacking will become a frequent problem within the next three years or less.

“Technology offers a wide range of enhanced convenience for today’s new vehicle buyers, but it also offers the increasing potential for unauthorized access and control,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Cyber-security is still a relatively new area of specialization for automakers, but it’s one they need to take seriously to ensure they are ahead of the curve.”

The study indicated that nearly half of consumers will consider the risks of hacking when they buy their next vehicle, putting the onus on the automotive industry to stay ahead of the problem and provide real solutions. But, as we’ve seen with the growth of hacking in general and the resulting arms race between “black-hat” hackers and security experts, it won’t be easy.

“If automotive engineers find themselves playing catch-up in this field, it could have disastrous results for both consumers and the industry,” Brauer noted. “Consumers also are highly skeptical that a comprehensive solution to prevent vehicle hacking can ever be developed, though an overwhelming majority would be willing to pay for hack-proof vehicle security if it existed.”

Among other highlights of the study, KBB found that nearly three in four consumers are aware of the recent Wired story and video. About a third consider the possibility of hacking a “serious” problem, and they are pessimistic about whether a solution can be reached. Nearly 60 percent believe the problem will ultimately prove insurmountable.

The survey also looked at whether they believe certain vehicles and makes are potentially susceptible to hacking. Fiat Chrysler (maker of the aforementioned Jeep, among many others) led the pack, with seven in 10 believing Fiat Chrysler vehicles are most at-risk. (It should be noted that, since this is a relatively new subject to the general public, it’s likely that at least some participants’ perceptions were colored by the fact that the hackers in the Wired story chose a Jeep to attack.)

Domestic brands in general were seen as more susceptible to hacking, with GM and Ford coming in well below Fiat Chrysler. Subaru’s parent company Fuji Heavy Industries was last among brands consumers thought were the least susceptible.

So, should we be worried about vehicle hacking? Probably not yet, most experts say. Many agencies are working on the issue, among them the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has hired its own hackers to explore security vulnerabilities in vehicles. For now, it appears that hacking requires a lot of effort, knowledge and physical access to the vehicle that the hackers normally wouldn’t have. But as the technology gets better, cyber security experts warn, these barriers may disappear.

For now, it appears that the real threat from vehicle hacking is more about stealing your personal information than it is for taking remote control. Some in Congress, such as Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, are seeking to address the issue through legislation. Markey wrote a white paper on the subject back in February. “As cars include more technological and computer advancements, concerns about the privacy of consumer data become even more pressing,” says Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

For more on vehicle hacking, visit this link.

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