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The Scary Reality of Vehicle Hacking

29th of July, 2015

The road is dark, illuminated only by the headlights of your new car; for some reason people never think to put lights on these remote roads. Windows down, hair blowing, music loud enough for a street party: there really is no other way to drive on a summer night.


100 km/h in your new car, then suddenly — nothing. No movement, no speed, no music, no sound at all. Your new car sits dead on this deserted road for a reason you can’t comprehend.


Is it the engine? the tires? the transmission? Does anyone know how these new cars work anyway? Yes. They do. Who are They? They are hackers, the same ones who just forced your car to stop in it’s place giving you no control, no protection, and no help. You wanna know something else? They’re coming.


It seems surreal enough that it could have been ripped out of a thriller novel. Unfortunately, the threat of vehicle hacking is real and the abilities hackers have once they gain entry to your vehicle is frankly terrifying.


Last week, Wired reported on hackers being able to remotely control a Jeep Cherokee. Once inside, the two hackers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek could control everything from the vehicles entertainment system and climate control, to its steering and braking abilities. They gain entry by connecting to the computer in the vehicle’s entertainment system. From there, Miller and Valasek can query the vehicle for sensitive information or give it commands that allows them to control the vehicle. Miller and Valasek proved their claim by having Wired Senior Writer, Andy Greenberg, drive a Cherokee that they would then remotely hack into. Take a moment to watch the full five-minute hacking below.

This problem, often reserved for television scripts, is now a startling reality. Noted security expert Brian Bourne provided great insight into how cars have become so vulnerable when he spoke to the CBC for their article, “Hacking Cars: What can consumers do to stay safe?”. In this article, Bourne says that modern cars are as susceptible to hackers as a computer was in 1995. The reason, seems to be a general rush to release cool, new technology, “something to get consumers excited- security tends to be the last thing [manufacturers] spend money on.”


Bourne’s statement apparently rings true as Fiat Chrysler announced a recall for approximately 1.4 million vehicles following Wired’s video. The recall is voluntary and gives Fiat Chrysler the opportunity to apply a software patch developed to fix the problem.


While Fiat Chrysler has come out with their fix rather quickly, Miller and Valasek make a good point by saying that their hack is indicative of a much larger problem. The new generations of vehicles are becoming “increasingly connected to the internet”, and with that comes the security and privacy nightmares we are all too used to from our other devices. Most troubling is the fact that Miller and Valasek are just two men with limited access to vehicles. This means that, when it comes to the vast array of other vehicle brands on the market, we just don’t know how deep the problem goes.

About Ryan Jeethan

Ryan is a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Arts & Business program focusing on UW’s unique Speech Communication program. 

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