Driverless Cars and Car Hacking: Prepare For New Security Issues

With Google making the driverless cars and computers more common in vehicles nowadays, are hackers in the weeds waiting to control them? Today, I talk about how people are hacking cars intentionally...and should they?

August 10th, 2015 • Gadgets •
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Plain Car

You're driving down the highway in your 2014 Jeep Cherokee.

All of the sudden, the A/C comes on. Then, your radio turns on and starts scanning stations. Finally, you're car turns off.

While this may seem like a scene from Live Free or Die Hard movie, it's actually a real situation that occurred with a Wired Editor being the subject of an experiment for hacking a car...while the driver was driving it.

I'm pretty sure that would freak anybody out.

Based on a survey reported by CNet, it seems there's a whopping 71% of people who are freaked out by car hacking. Most car hacking is susceptible based on the make and model of the cars listed in this handy car guide. Check to see if your car is on the list and find out what your manufacturer is doing against this

I imagine a recall will occur soon.

Not only do we have users hacking cars, we are now coming into a market of driverless cars.

Driverless Cars: Is it a good idea?

If you haven't heard, Google has been testing its autonomous cars, or driverless cars. Not only is Google getting into it, Nissan, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz built their own versions of their driverless cars.

I am pretty sure that this will turn the insurance industry on it's head.

What will insurance companies that specialize in auto insurance do when the driverless cars saturate the market? Bloomberg has a great article about whether the insurance can survive the driverless cars.

Now that driverless cars are on the horizon, will hackers have an even bigger playing field? Most hackers are already pimping their rides with OBD-II.

Can You "Brick" Your Car?

Since 1996, most cars have the OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostics Generation II) interface so mechanics can examine your car and determine what's wrong with it when the light indicators appear on your dashboard.

But most developers are starting to hack their cars a little more. If they start installing custom mods using "firmware," does this mean that if a mechanic notices that it's a different version of the software in the car, will the mechanic be authorized to work on the car because the firmware wasn't 1) installed by a "licensed" mechanic? or 2) the correct firmware wasn't used?

Even worse, what happens if a total novice uploads the firmware into the car and something goes wrong with the upload? Will the person have a huge paperweight in their driveway because their car is now telling them they don't have enough gas or they don't have control over their brakes?

These issues scare me because of so-called "developers" (Joe-regular) think that they can perform updates on their cars without a certified mechanic.

Let me put this into perspective: If I perform a firmware update to a device or a computer, my life is not in danger if the firmware doesn't work. If I upload unauthorized firmware to a car and it doesn't work, guess what? I'm putting my life in the hands of that software.

There better be some solid unit tests in place for that code! :-o

Conclusion

If we are moving in this direction with driverless cars, I'm kind of torn between having one and not having one. I definitely wouldn't mind taking a nap while the car drives to Florida, but at the same time, I want to see what's going to hit me before it hits me.

While it seems like a great idea, I keep referencing the quote of Malcolm from Jurassic Park:

We are so preoccupied as to whether or not we could do it that we didn't stop to think if we should.

Do you think driverless cars are a good idea? Post your opinions below.

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Picture of Jonathan Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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