Making Sure Cyber Security Keeps Up With Vehicle Technology

Posted on June 28, 2013

It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie:  you’re driving down the road, minding your own business, when suddenly something takes control of your vehicle.  Systems start turning on and off and your vehicle starts to careen in directions you never intended.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has grown concerned about just this type of situation due to the advent of wireless technologies that take partial or even full control away from the driver.  Self-driving cars are on the way from Google, and in the meantime, researchers are currently testing the viability of Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Grid technology.

Unfortunately, there’s a worry that the ready availability of such technology also allows persons to gain inappropriate access to the vehicles that are supposed to bring us safely to our destinations.  We’ve all heard horror stories about computers and networks being hacked, so why couldn’t it happen to an automobile that is just as well-connected?  The same fears also plague modern medical devices.

The Electronics Systems Safety Research Division has been built by the NHTSA to deal with this threat.  The administrator of the NHTSA spoke to the United States Senate recently about the importance of addressing the issue.  He believes that improvements to cyber security are of the utmost importance and should be made right along with developments into the constant betterment of the reliability of vehicle systems.

Instances of an individual gaining remote access to a motor vehicle are not unprecedented, although thankfully, such situations have currently only occurred, at least to the best of our knowledge, in a controlled environment.  Three years ago, a team made up of representatives of Washington University and the nearby University of California- San Diego showed just how relatively simple it would be to hack into a car.

They gained access to the electronic control module of the vehicle in question, and with control of that module at their fingertips, they were able to do such things as turn off the brakes, cut power to the engine, force a vehicle to remain on when a user wanted it off, and even initiate a shutdown of every single system within the vehicle.

Now imagine if that were to happen while you were barreling down the interstate at around 65 miles per hour.  When speaking to the Senate, the administrator pointed to the many, many ways to gain access to vehicles.  Access could be achieved with a wireless connection, sure, but may even be possible with a mobile phone, a USB device, and more.

Hopefully, automakers will begin to recognize this threat and take measures to protect consumers.

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