It seems that in the past couple of weeks everyone has been hacked. We learned about the over-the-air attack against FCA automobiles through a hacked Jeep. OnStar was hacked with an OwnStar over-the-air hack. Heck, people are even hacking cars through the ODB-II port. Car hacking seems to have become a way of life recently, and it’s here to stay.
Car hacking is especially scary because if someone takes over your automobile, they’re putting your life (and the lives of the people you care about with you) at risk. Unlike a computer hack that can steal your credit card number or confirm you’re a member of Ashley Madison, there are physical consequences to a car hack.
So why is it here to stay? Can’t automakers prevent the problem?
Have you seen how often your computer is updated? Microsoft updates their systems once a month on the second Tuesday. This is called Patch Tuesday, and there’s usually a number of security updates included. If the security risk is dangerous enough, meaning it’s in the wild and people are exploiting it, they’ll issue an out-of-cycle patch immediately.
Microsoft’s Windows operating system is one of the safest on the market, because it’s the one that’s most attacked. The constant security updates to plug holes are necessary to keep the system secure. While I use a Mac OS, I’m actually more at risk since hackers don’t target the Mac. More holes might be there that haven’t been discovered. Luckily for the Mac users, there’s not enough market share to make big hacking financially worthwhile.
Cars have computers in them. People are going to continue to try to hack them. It’s not something to get outraged over every time there’s a breach. Why? Because there’ll be many breaches as attackers continue to target them. An automotive OEM doesn’t have super programmers that can prevent hacking completely. If they did, Microsoft would’ve paid them lots of money to come work for them!
Just remember a few things about hacking and you’ll be fine.
First off, if someone can gain physical access to your vehicle, you’re screwed. The hacks to the ODB-II port aren’t really that impressive because someone has to be inside your vehicle to get them to work. If someone really wants to cause you harm, cutting your brake lines is much easier than hacking your car.
Secondly, over-the-air hacks require a lot of work, and require hacking multiple systems. As is the case with the Jeep hack, hackers had to hack the Sprint network first before being able to gain access to the Uconnect infotainment system. There’s lot of places the ball can be dropped, even if the automotive OEM ultimately gets the blame.
Lastly, you’re just not that important. Macs are safer than Windows PCs because they aren’t as popular. Security through obscurity. Very few hackers are in it for the fame and fortune, and aren’t randomly selecting people to hack. They’re in it to make money. Hacking your car isn’t that profitable since you wouldn’t be able to pay a ransom careening down the highway. Unless you’re someone important, hackers aren’t going to single you out.
Hacking is a big deal, and is a problem for automotive OEMs. They’re continuing to get smarter and smarter about it, and as more people beat on their systems, they’ll adapt and make them even more secure. But they aren’t a special computer system that’ll be invulnerable to attack just because they haul people around. Every major automaker will get hacked, we just need to not overreact about it.
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