Your New Car—Don’t Even Bother Opening the Hood

You can kick a tire if you like and refill the windshield-washer fluid, but that’s actually about it. Electric or fossil-fueled, there is also the risk of being hacked.

Hacked? Someone could hack my car? Surely you’re not serious.

Yep, ‘fraid so. (Confession) I drive a 28-year-old Subaru with 168,000 miles on the clock and my mechanic loves it. It’s one of the few cars he can actually work on and he has it running like a fine watch. I love cars and love to drive, so I’d been hankering for a used Tesla, but a recent article in the New York Times is giving me second thoughts.

Care for an F-35 in your garage?

Silly question perhaps, but the military’s F-35 fighter jet, costing $80 million per copy, has 25 million lines of software code. Take a deep breath. Whatever 2021 model car you choose to drive away from the dealership, it will likely have 100 million lines of code. Nowhere in the Times article do they explain why that would be. And that’s expected to triple if we ever get to autonomous driving.

But I wouldn’t think my cell phone would have more computing power than the roomful of computers that sent the first man to the moon, either. Yet I’m told my phone has 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed man on the moon 50 years ago.

We live in exciting times, but certain aspects sure are weird.

If code can be written, it can be hacked

Mmm, maybe so and maybe not. Yet according to Computer Science Degree Hub:

  • Operation Shady RAT: A computer programmer based in the People’s Republic of China is assumed to be responsible for these continuing cyber attacks that first began in 2006. Named for its utilization of remote access tools that allows computers to be remotely controlled from anywhere in the world, this hacker has succeeded in stealing the intellectual property from at least 70 public and private organizations across 14 countries. Those victimized include the United Nations, multiple defense contractors, worldwide businesses, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee. (And that was 15 years ago)
  • Department Of Defense Hack: A teenager from Florida managed to compromise the military’s computer system way back in 1999. By installing backdoor software into the computer system of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Jonathan James was able to intercept highly classified emails. These included information about the life support code for the International Space Station and many other important matters. (22 years ago)
  • Comodo Hack: Everyone who uses a computer is familiar with those reassuring security certificates that let you know that you’ve arrived at a secure site, but they aren’t always what they seem. Comodo, a company that provides those certificates, was hacked in 2011 by an Iranian programmer who was then able to create fake security certificates that led people to believe that they were actually logging into Yahoo or Google. This allowed the hacker to eavesdrop on any e-mail that was sent from these services and gain personal information. (10 years ago)

And recently we have all become aware of Ransomware, a new kind of cyber-crime that targets industries for ransom.

Inconvenient, but not likely fatal

Well, is it or isn’t it? A Spectrum ieee Engineering article explains, With the explosion of mobile apps and cloud-based services over the past ten years, not to mention the increasing complex electronics being built into vehicles themselves, “potential attack surfaces are increasing virtually daily.”

Hmmm, not good. I guess we have to see how this all plays out, but it’s not reassuring to think it’s possible to be comfortably rolling along the road at 80mph and suddenly lose control of your car, unable to slow down, switch off the motor(s) or even call for help. Maybe we have to re-think the ‘not likely fatal.’

I don’t man this to be a worry piece, but these problems have just come to my attention from two reliable sources. I felt I should share them with you.

Sleep well…


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