Imagine this grisly scenario: You’re driving down the interstate with the cruise control set at the speed limit. Without warning, your car accelerates. The speedometer pushes past 100 miles per hour. Suddenly, the car turns left and crashes into the concrete median.
Or a tree. Whatever.
“Cars basically look like they have for 50 years, but underneath they’ve changed dramatically,” said John D. Lee, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin. “A car is a rolling computer network with 80 to 100 microprocessors and 100 million lines of code.”
It’s become such a concern that last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration quietly opened up a cyber terrorism department to keep track of software issues that could make cars vulnerable to attack.
You can’t buy a car these days without it having a computer or several computers embedded inside. Higher end cars tend to have more computers.
Researchers from the University of Washington and University of California-San Diego hacked into an ordinary, mid-priced, late-model sedan available to any consumer. They unlocked car doors, eavesdropped on conversations, turned the engine on and off and compromised critical vehicle systems.
In a follow-up experiment, the researchers, affiliated with the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security, breached all sorts of security measures, uploading malware from a doctored CD and obtaining “full control” over the sedan’s telematics unit by calling the car’s cell phone, according to their research.
They also compromised a Pass-Thru device, which helps auto technicians diagnose problems, which allowed them to subsequently connect to every car that later was plugged into that device. This was particularly troublesome, because it meant hackers could infiltrate more than one car from a single entry point.
In even better news, automakers are now updating car computer software wirelessly.
More: Jalopnik mocks the above AOL article as “fear-mongering BS.”