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Grand Theft Auto: Cyberspace

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Almost everyone who uses a computer knows the risks associated with being hacked and having valuable personal information stolen. The media continues to demonstrate with each new release of ill-advised celebrity photos that were obtained by having their cell phones hacked that something we carry in our pockets everyday is vulnerable to invisible thieves. Is it time to start worrying about our cars being hacked as well?

As communication between cars continues to increase, the connectivity between their electronic systems does as well. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller worries that just as connectivity between phone and computer systems makes them susceptible to hacking, cars are now facing a similar threat. Cars are becoming more and more electronic, and therefore have more potential technological weaknesses. Today’s typical luxury car has more than 100 million lines of computer code, while software and electronics account for 40 percent of the car’s cost and half of warranty claims1. The primary concern is that in the future cars will be able to be controlled remotely.

While hacking a phone or computer can compromise personal information, the stakes of having a car hacked are much higher. Stolen credit card information can be rectified by closing the account. A stolen car needs to be found and returned to the owner. More importantly, a hacked car that is being controlled remotely can injure the driver inside the car, other drivers on the road, or innocent bystanders. Being able to hack into almost any car and turn it into a mobile weapon is a terrifying threat to public safety and national security.

The increase of electronics in cars and the potential threats that it presents can lead to even more government regulation. In addition to structural safety and fuel economy, auto manufacturers might soon have to deal with cyber security regulations as well. Perhaps more importantly, auto makers needs consumers to trust their electronic security and technology. If someone were able to find a way to hack into a car’s electronic system, its reputation among consumers would tank and the trust between the manufacturer and car owners would be broken.

Ultimately, auto makers must be cautious moving forward with the implementation of electronic communication in cars. A mistake could be devastating for the company itself and especially the owners of these cars. What some may see as a strength in the increase of electronics can became a weakness if not monitored properly.


One Comment

  1. Part of the process is to have passive data sent/received, location, speed, and so on, but have processing on vehicle. If that’s done, then the potential for hacking is with keyless entry and other remote functions. The more of the latter, however, the greater the vulnerability, and the less passive the interactions among vehicles, the greater the potential for glitches – unanticipated interactions – if not outright hacking.

    John Heitman is coming out with a book on car theft. I suspect reading that will provide insights on what can go wrong. It’s not yet in press so I can’t provide a proper citation.

    May 19, 2013

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