Hackers Target Your Car


By Samuel Greengard

I'm beginning to wonder if there's any technology that's unhackable, and anti-virus software giant McAfee warns that cars might be the next frontier. As automakers embed a growing tangle of functions into vehicles, "the threat of attack and malicious manipulation grows," says McAfee senior vice president and general manager Stuart McClure.

Botnets on my PC are one thing. Exploding air bags and braking systems that fail when I'm driving are entirely another matter. The report, Caution: Malware Ahead, serves up a dizzying array of scenarios. "Having your car hacked could translate to dire risks to your personal safety," McClure warns.

In fact, security experts at the 2011 Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas used text messages to remotely lock and unlock a car and then start it. Researchers at the University of Washington and UC San Diego have demonstrated that hackers can compromise critical safety systems in vehicles.

As vehicle manufacturers leave tread marks all over each other in the quest to add new and innovative features, security has been left in the exhaust.

But cars aren't the only potential nightmare. Security experts have also hacked into medical implants, including an insulin system with a wireless pump and glucose monitor that's worn by thousands of diabetics in the U.S. Reportedly, the FDA has taken note, whatever that means.

Hacking into pacemakers and kidney dialysis machines probably isn't far behind.

Let's not even think about planes, trains and subways.

The problem is that companies are eager to get unfinished or incomplete products to market as quickly as possible that they neglect adequate security. The whole world has become one giant beta test. You get it out there to grab market share and mindshare and you worry about the repercussions later.

Software developers have confirmed this fact over and over again. There are typically more bugs in a new application release than there are in the Louisiana bayou on a summer evening. Worse, companies--and customers--have become almost blasé about this situation. It's become the norm.

Real life increasingly sounds like a bad 1950s science fiction movie. Maybe typewriters and paper maps weren't such a bad thing, after all.