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Are Today’s Cars Vulnerable to Hackers?


If you have gone shopping for a new vehicle in the last 5 years, you are probably well aware that today’s cars are becoming rolling computers. Automakers continue to out-do each other with the latest in internet radio, in-car WiFi hotspots, advanced GPS navigation, and convenience features like keyless entry and remote start. However, regulators and industry experts have expressed a growing concern that all that highly connected tech has made cars extremely vulnerable to hackers while automakers do not seem to grasp the severity of the problem.

Serious Security Flaws in Today’s Cars

A recent segment airing on 60 Minutes featured news anchor Lesley Stahl behind the wheel of a 2015 Chevrolet Impala in a parking lot. As Stahl attempted to drive the large sedan through a series of obstacles, an engineer armed with nothing more than a laptop and a wireless connection was able to wrench control of the car out of her hands. She sat powerless as the hacker turned on the windshield wipers, floored the accelerator pedal, and even disabled the car’s brakes.

While the hack was carried out in carefully controlled conditions and came after considerable preparation, the idea of a malicious attack against drivers on real-world roads is not at all far-fetched. In 2014, BMW was forced to make an over-the-air update to many of its recent models which feature the company’s ConnectedDrive infotainment system after uncovering a security vulnerability that could allow hackers to unlock and start BMW cars remotely.

General Motors, maker of the Impala used on the 60 Minutes segment, recently hired a large team of researchers to find ways to patch glaring security holes in its OnStar emergency response system. While no known cases of this occurrence actually taking place in public have been reported, the exploitative technology is very real and quite dangerous.

Cars Used in Terror Attacks?

As government regulators around the world envision a worst-case scenario, hacked consumer cars could be used to carry out large-scale terrorist attacks. All new cars sold today feature at least some degree of wireless connectivity. Such pathways allow data to travel from a vehicle to the cloud and back, mostly for entertainment and driving convenience, but also are linked to a car’s most vital systems. Securing those pathways is the greatest challenge now facing computer engineers as cars become more and more technologically advanced.