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Hackers Might be Able to Take Control of Your Smart Car

With the advancement of automotive technology, your next car might be as vulnerable to security attacks as your current computer or smartphone.

We keep a close eye on our smartphones, computers, and other gadgets to ensure their digital security. If our devices are breached, we risk losing our valued privacy and subject ourselves to extortionists — those who will happily return stolen personal information in exchange for a monetary payment. But, what if it was much worse? What if our cars were subject to hackers who could take complete control? The threat is genuine, and it’s growing.

Journalists Jefferson Graham and Chris Woodyard recently spoke with the Director of California-based security company Green Hills Software, Joe Fabbre. In the trio’s discussion, Fabbre commented on a scene from Hollywood blockbuster, “The Fate of the Furious,” in which vehicle hacking was depicted:

“That’s Hollywood sensationalizing it, but that is not really that far-fetched… there are very skilled hackers out there who can beat through a lot of medium and low levels of robustness in terms of security that is present in a lot of cars today.”

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In recent years, automakers have become more conscious of security vulnerabilities that are now possible due to the increased number of computer systems found within cars. While no one has yet been killed due to an occurrence of vehicle hacking, cases have been noted where cars brakes and engine systems have been taken over remotely.

Back in 2015, hackers were able to take control of a Jeep Cherokee, shutting its engines down on a local St. Louis highway. The incident prompted Fiat Chrysler to send out USB sticks to their drivers that contained software fixes to prevent the exploit.

Last year, for the second year in a row, a group of Chinese hackers was able to demonstrate a software exploit within a Tesla vehicle, allowing them to take control of a Model X’s brake system, audio, and door systems. Luckily, these hackers were on our side, working to show the vulnerabilities in poorly secured software.

While your next car may be equipped with computer systems exhibiting exploits, the real catastrophe is when we view the world of entirely autonomous vehicles – driving without the aid of human interaction. With self-driving cars, the threat becomes very real when cars begin sending signals amongst one another to communicate wirelessly to better understand the road ahead.

When it comes to whether or not you should be concerned — yes, you should keep yourself aware of the security threats present in emerging vehicle technology. However, automotive makers are working faster than ever, learning to deploy software updates that can be installed via your home WiFi or vehicle’s cellular connection, to provide us with a safer future. For now, be sure to keep your hands on the wheel and your smart car updated.