New cars today have hundreds of computer chips installed as part of the factory production process. Virtually every major system of an automobile today, including the engine, brakes and entertainment systems, are controlled by computer chips. Almost all communication with and between these chips is wireless.
The use of computer chips and software has dramatically increased the safety and convenience of driving automobiles, but unfortunately security has not kept up with the rapid pace of technological development in this area. According to a new study conducted by Democratic Senator Edward Markey, it is relatively easy for hackers to take over control of almost any new car sold today.
Sen. Markey’s staff undertook a study of 16 car companies and their security measures for preventing security breaches of their in-vehicle electronic systems. The study also examined the policies and practices car companies have established for the customer data they are collecting through the wireless transmission used in modern cars.
The conclusion of the Markey study notes that “there is a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers who may be able to take control of a vehicle or against those who may wish to collect and use personal driver information.”
Recent CBS report on auto hackers
CBS News also recently produced a 60 Minutes segment illustrating how hackers can quickly break into the computer systems of a brand new car. The hackers successfully deactivated the brakes, honked the horn, and turned on the windshield wipers working from a remote location, while journalist Lesley Stahl sitting in the car could not to do anything to stop them.
Statement from Senator Markey
“Drivers have come to rely on these new technologies, but unfortunately the automakers haven’t done their part to protect us from cyberattacks or privacy invasions,” Markey commented in a statement on the study. “Even as we are more connected than ever in our cars and trucks, our technology systems and data security remain largely unprotected.”
Statement from auto industry representative
Wade Newton, the spokesperson of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said he has not seen the report but noted that automakers consider it important to maintain customer trust by developing strong consumer privacy protections.
“The industry is in the early stages of establishing a voluntary automobile industry sector information sharing and analysis center… for collecting and sharing information about existing or potential cyber-related threats,” Newton explained.