Hackers can seize control of automobiles and make them crash on command

Saturday, July 27, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: automobiles, cyberattack, hackers

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(NaturalNews) As technology advances, it is becoming more of a double-edged sword, improving our quality of life while at the same time making us more vulnerable to hazards and unconstitutional behavior in ways we've never been.

Perhaps nowhere has technology had as much of an impact in our daily lives as in the makeup and function of our automobiles. An advertisement I saw a couple of years ago for a small local technical college, for example, mentioned how today's minivans have infinitely more computing power than the Apollo space capsules we sent to the moon.

With the functions of today's cars, trucks and SUV's controlled almost solely by computers, what is the possibility that they, like our laptops and desktops, can be hacked? Answer: Increasingly more likely, as demonstrated recently by a pair of tech heads who are security specialists for their respective companies.

Building a defense for hacking automobiles

Charlie Miller, a 40-year-old security engineer at Twitter, and Chris Valasek, 31-year-old director of security intelligence at the Seattle consultancy IOActive, "received an $80,000-plus grant last fall from the mad-scientist research arm of the Pentagon known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to root out security vulnerabilities in automobiles," reports. In a recent field test, the pair was able to demonstrate that hacking into an automobile's computer functions is not only doable but frightening.

The researchers say they will release their findings and the "attack software" they developed at a hacker conference, Defcon, to be held in Las Vegas in August. Their goal is "to help other researchers find and fix the auto industry's security problems before malicious hackers get under the hoods of unsuspecting drivers," Forbes reported.

It's coming just in time. The need to shore up auto security is becoming more and more pressing, especially as more and more cars are being "connected" to the Internet, where malicious hackers are constantly waiting, watching and preying. Soon, Miller and Valasek - and, obviously, DARPA - fear that they'll be able to get under the hood of cars and essentially take them over. Consider:

Practically every American carmaker now offers a cellular service or Wi-Fi network like General Motors' OnStar, Toyota's Safety Connect and Ford's SYNC. Mobile-industry trade group the GSMA estimates revenue from wireless devices in cars at $2.5 billion today and projects that number will grow tenfold by 2025. Without better security it's all potentially vulnerable, and automakers are remaining mum or downplaying the issue.

They shouldn't. In fact, automakers should be out in front either developing, or helping to develop, programming and software aimed at protecting drivers from hacking.

"Imagine you're driving down a highway at 80," Valasek says. "You're going into the car next to you or into oncoming traffic. That's going to be bad times."

During their field test, which took place in an abandoned strip mall parking lot in South Bend, Ind., the hacker duo was able to kill - or initiate - the brakes of a Toyota Prius, as well as take control of the car's headlights and car horn. They could also tighten the passenger's and driver's seat belts at will.

Besides revealing serious electronic vulnerabilities inherent in today's cars and trucks, it also backs up statements that have been made by former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism, Richard Clarke.

'Consistent with a car cyber attack'

In an interview with The Huffington Post Clarke suggested that the car crash which led to the death of Rolling Stone investigative journalist Michael Hastings in Los Angeles in June was "consistent with a car cyber attack."

"What has been revealed as a result of some research at universities is that it's relatively easy to hack your way into the control system of a car, and to do such things as cause acceleration when the driver doesn't want acceleration, to throw on the brakes when the driver doesn't want the brakes on, to launch an air bag," Clarke said. "You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it's not that hard."

"I'm not a conspiracy guy. In fact, I've spent most of my life knocking down conspiracy theories," Clarke continued. "But my rule has always been you don't knock down a conspiracy theory until you can prove it [wrong]. And in the case of Michael Hastings, what evidence is available publicly is consistent with a car cyber attack. And the problem with that is you can't prove it."

Let's hope Miller and Valasek - and DARPA - can come up with a viable defense.


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