Hacking could be a huge threat for the future of automobiles

Hacking could be a huge threat for the future of automobiles

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Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk delivers Model X electric sports-utility vehicles during a presentation in Fremont, California REUTERS/Stephen Lam – RTS2CQX

The automotive industry is witnessing a huge shift. The past couple of years have been very exciting especially if you have been following the automobile industry. With Tesla pushing and paving the way for fully electric and autonomous cars, established automobile makers have also shifted into high gears.

Companies like Chevrolet, Volvo, Jaguar and many more are trying their hands on creating their own versions of the electric car. There is also a huge amount of revenue and R&D being invested in developing driverless cars, which will definitely be the future of the automobile world.

All of this sounds great, but to be honest, we have just scratched the surface. There is a lot more to dig into this.

An important thing to note here is, as car makers are making their products efficient, more productive and safer, they are relying more and more on electronic equipment rather than mechanical parts. While the latter are not fully reliable and prone to failures, electronic and CPU based equipment aren’t all that safe either. A number of incidents regarding electrical failures and autopilot malfunctions have been reported which have or could prove fatal in the future. Rigorous testing is necessary before these high-tech cars can actually be deployed to the end-users.

The biggest issue with technology; be it cars, smartphones or laptops, is that as it evolves so do the means of illegal takeovers. And since technology is becoming a part of our everyday life, hackers are finding it easy to take over our ‘digital lives’ and enter our personal lives.

Recently a team of hackers managed to take remote control of a Tesla Model S from a distance of 12 miles (19 kilometers approx). They managed to interfere with the brakes, door locks, the dashboard computer screen and other electronic equipment onboard.

 

The hackers were actually Chinese security researchers – Samuel LV, Sen Nie, Ling Liu and Wen Lu from Keen Security Lab. They were able to target the car wirelessly proving a point that a real life attack could prove fatal. The hack allowed the team to enter the controller area network (CAN), which is a bunch of tiny computers found inside every modern vehicle to control most of the electronic equipment like indicators or brakes.

With this hijack, the hackers gained the ability to move the seats back and forth, trigger the indicators and windscreen wipers and even open the sunroof and boot while the car was driving and in parking mode. The hackers could also control the car’s brakes, which is probably a serious threat for the driver.

Thankfully the hackers acted responsibly and suggested the issue to Tesla itself. Tesla gave a statement saying “The issue demonstrated is only triggered when the web browser is used, and also required the car to be physically near to and connected to a malicious Wi-Fi hotspot. Our realistic estimate is that the risk to our customers was very low, but this did not stop us from responding quickly.”

This is a whole new threat which would need serious attention as cars become more electronic than mechanical. Car makers will not only have to ensure physical safety, but as well as digital. Apart from taking over the controls of a car, hackers could potentially also hack personal devices like smartphones and tablets via the car’s infotainment system. Meaning a hacker could easily read your mails and messages while your smartphone is connected to the car.

The future of automobiles will not only require mechanics and engineers, but will also need specialists who can come up with powerful antivirus and other methods to ensure digital security.

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