Vehicle computer hacking no longer fiction!

You’re on your way to an important destination. Work, family event, a date, the nearest restroom, whichever the case, you’re in your car and you need to be somewhere. Checking the phone, you’re making good time. Traffic isn’t bad, no pedestrian worth noting. As you cruise down a clear street, you suddenly lose full control of your vehicle. Reflexes kick in and you try braking or pulling at the steering wheel, but you still have nothing. The car has a mind of its own and its steering itself. Your vehicle continues for a few dozen feet before colliding with a tree. What just happened? Malfunction? Ghost? No, you’ve just been hacked.

The expression you share with Tyrese, when his vehicle was hacked in Faster & Furious 6

The expression of Tyrese, when his vehicle was hacked.

Set to reveal their research at the security conference “DefCon” (taking place in Las Vegas this August), Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek have compiled data which reveals one thing. Your vehicle can be hacked. This may not be a surprise for motor enthusiasts who are aware of the technology invested in today’s cars, but to the broader public – this is quite alarming.

In the last number of decades, vehicle owners and mechanics could access the on-board computer of the vehicle through a particular port located between the wheel and your pedals. This particular terminal is how Miller and Valasek were able to tap into the vehicle’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU), which exists on all modern cars. But what does the ECU control? The answer is: Acceleration, braking, steering, monitor displays and the horn.

Conducting research through use of a hard-line to the on-board computer terminal, Miller and Valasek were able to create a software that would override the user’s control of the vehicle by standard means.

Digital CarJacking

The controller used to pilot-hack the car. Yes, its a Nintendo controller.

Spokespersons from Toyota declared that it does not consider the action “hacking”, as it required a hard-lined device to be connected to the on-board computer. However, research from individuals at the University of Washington and University of San Diego have developed a tool in 2010 called the “CarShark”, which allowed for remote control of a vehicle. Beyond the advancements of those teams, Miller and Valasek’s research pointed out how much control you can achieve once you gain access to the on-board network.

Although Toyota and Ford, whose cars were among those tested by Miller and Valasek, expressed that they invest heavy research and security towards their on-board computer software, Miller expressed, “There’s no authentication.” Without any authentication, the computer doesn’t determine the who or what is giving the instruction to it – only that there are instructions to be executed.

Miller and Valasek were assisted with funding by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to determine the very extent of the aforementioned control. Andy Greenberg of Forbes took part in covering that very detail which you can view here.

There has yet to be any criminal record of vehicle hacking, but it would only be a matter of time when the stuff of television and movies start to crop up in a neighborhood near you.

Source: BBC

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