Should I be?
Normally when an automaker is in the news for all the wrong reasons it has something to do with a recall. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) found itself in the news over the last few days for all the wrong reasons and they had nothing to to with a recall. Instead, they received bad press because someone hacked a Jeep Cherokee while it was on the road.
Hearing this made some people panic. One look at my emails and Facebook messages over the last day is proof as friends all asked if I knew about this and was it dangerous and should they be worried and the end is nigh! The end is not nigh, or at least no more so than it was before someone hacked that Jeep.
Here’s a little background on the incident. A journalist from Wired acted as the guinea pig on a real highway with real traffic. The hackers let him know they’d mess with the car, but not how. It went from playing with the climate controls to the engine and scared the guy half to death.
The good news
The hackers in question, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, aren’t out to get us. They’re the good guys and were trying to show how vulnerable our cars are right now. They provided information about how they hacked the car and FCA promptly responded by releasing a patch to fix the problem in all their vehicles. End of story, or not quite.
The whole incident shows that malicious hackers definitely can access our cars if they try. It used to be a worry we had only with our computers, but our cars and our computers are so entwined that both are vulnerable. They contain plenty of personal information no one wants shared, but hacking a car is more frightening because someone could take over and end up hurting you.
There’s also the chance that the plane I’m flying in at this moment could crash. I could land safely and be hit by a bus on the way to my car. These things could happen, but they probably won’t.
Hacking isn’t about physically hurting people. It’s about stealing and revealing information. Sometimes it’s done under the guise of outing a public figure who has done something the hacker thinks is wrong. Most of the time it’s to steal information that puts money into theives’ pockets.
I’m less worried about being injured because a hacker took control of my car and more concerned with data my car collects. That’s useful. That’s worth stealing, and the reality is, it’s going to happen. Credit card and identity theft are nothing new. Companies work very hard to prevent this, but it still happens. A quick reaction to fix the problem is part of the solution.
The takeaway from all of this is yes, cars are hackable. Automakers are working on making cars secure, but it’s turf that’s as new to them as it is to us. Things aren’t perfect and history tells us that our data will never be entirely safe no matter where it’s stored or who is in charge.
So, why not panic?
FCA didn’t take the situation lightly. They took quick action to fix the problem. This includes a software update that customers can download to their vehicles and further modifications to make sure that this particular open door is closed in the future.
Each time hackers hack cars to show vulnerabilities, the automakers make sure it can’t happen the same way again. This makes that imperfect security continually more perfect over time. It’s also important to know that this hasn’t happened for real, just in staged scenarios. No one has hacked a car and stolen data or driven that car off the road.
It’s a frightening scenario, but take a deep breath and relax. Car security is an issue, but it’s one that is being seriously addressed to keep everyone’s data, and cars, safe.