Imagine this nightmarish possibility: Al-Qaida terrorists cause thousands of motorists racing down a freeway during the morning commute to suddenly lose their brakes, leading to massive chaos, death and destruction. Implausible? Maybe not, some experts warn.
As cars and trucks have become laden with brainy devices to control everything from their air bags to their crash-avoidance systems, the vehicles have become increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, according to recent studies by university researchers and security companies.
One found that a car’s computer controls could be remotely accessed through their Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or OnStar connections, potentially allowing terrorists to simultaneously disable the brakes of numerous cars, corporate spies to eavesdrop on a motoring executive’s phone calls, or thieves to electronically locate, break into and start cars they’ve targeted to steal. Another showed how a car’s tire pressure warning system could be wirelessly tricked into sending false alerts to drivers, which could prompt them to stop and fall prey to robbers following them.
Speculating that villains might short sell an auto-company’s stock and then cause widespread problems in its cars, Ryan Permeh, a principal security architect at Intel’s McAfee division, added, “I can definitely imagine organized crime or potentially even nation states leveraging weaknesses in these functions to cause different kinds of havoc.”
Although instances of car hacking have been extremely rare, the threat has gotten the attention of automakers.