Imagine driving along the highway when all of a sudden the brakes cut out, the accelerator dies, and the steering wheel begins to sporadically turn. You’ve lost all control of your vehicle.
There must be some technical malfunction in the car’s computer, you think, trying to stave off panic. But you’re dead wrong.
In fact, your car has been hacked.
Seem improbable? Unfortunately, it’s not. In the push to equip cars with advanced electronics, entertainment, and navigation systems, many auto makers have introduced a crippling flaw into their vehicles’ computer systems.
On Tuesday, Wired published an article detailing a similar hack – though this event was planned and, fortunately, no one was hurt.
Two “white hat” hackers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, remotely accessed a Jeep Cherokee driven by Andy Greenberg, the author of the Wired piece. Using an old MacBook and working from the comfort of home, Miller and Valasek were able to blast the Jeep’s air conditioning, change the radio station, spray windshield wiper fluid, kill the accelerator, and, finally, cut the vehicle’s brakes.
Miller and Valasek hope that their project will not only force auto makers to improve cyber security features, but also make drivers more aware of the dangers of car hacking.
So far, it seems to be working. On Tuesday – the same day the Wired article ran – senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal introduced a bill that would call on the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration to create new standards for digital automobile safety. Under the bill, all cars sold in the United States would eventually have to adhere to the updated standards.
In the meantime, though, hundreds of thousands of cars remain vulnerable. Miller and Valasek examined 24 different models to assess how hackable each car was. The results are detailed in a separate Wired article here. In short, the most vulnerable cars include the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, 2014 Infinity Q50, 2015 Cadillac Escalade, and both the 2010 and 2014 Toyota Prius.
If you’re worried about your car’s safety, you can refer to the auto maker’s website. Some, such as Chrysler, have released a software update that addresses a number of the vulnerabilities identified by Miller and Valasek.