Are Cars Hacking Us?

Are Cars Hacking Us?

2015 has been a very exciting year for car hacking, from Chris Valasek and Charlie Millers “road show” - to seeing a jeep literally stripped to pieces at DEFCON the blood is certainly in the water for exploitation of the advanced new software as our vehicles rapidly turn into computers.

The Volkswagen emission testing scandal brings to light another future, one in which perhaps the vehicles are doing the hacking. The idea isn’t new. Ford, GM, and even VW have tried to skirt the EPA’s strict rules on emissions. This time, however, there seems to have been clear advanced warning. Bosch, a supplier of automotive parts for VW, warned the company against using the “defeat devices” outside of test environments. While it might be a stretch to call this an 11M node botnet designed to attack the EPA, it was certainly software configured illegally to manipulate sensors for financial gain.

One thing is clear - modern cars are moving computers. It’s clear by VW’s cheating stunt and Jeep’s remote hijacking earlier in the year that there is little in place to prevent these sensors from being used for illicit purposes. If such a conservative company is willing to go to such lengths willfully, what kind of competition will we see in the world of semi-autonomous, or fully autonomous (level 4) vehicles that could be available as soon as 2020. Imagine vehicles that can force other vehicles to change lanes? There are sensors in place for this now aimed at driver safety, but they have had little, if any, security consideration. Could these sensors be vulnerable to takeover and manipulated for evil? The question certainly becomes more concerning as we get closer to taking humans out of the driving equation.

While I doubt we will see Google cars forcing Apples and Teslas off the 101, if we don’t start to take connected device security seriously, we could be faced with a real-life Mad Max scenario. For instance, Uber is notorious for aggressive business tactics and they are currently working on autonomous vehicles. I don’t suppose it’s out of the realm of possibility to have a vacant Uber block the one-way street of an oncoming Lyft vehicle. Of course, behind most of these doomsday transportation scenarios there is a bad guy pulling the strings. The FBI issued a warning about driverless cars back in 2013 and just last month they broadened their concern to IoT devices as a whole.

It will be interesting to follow the outcome of this massive Volkswagen hack, where the EPA, the consumer, and the environment were the victims.