Did a 1985 Hollywood blockbuster give us a hint into the future of computerized cars? After all, the DeLorean rigged by Doc Brown to head into the future experienced a major technical glitch that took Marty McFly into the past, not the future. It was a simple error of inputting the incorrect date of the future where Doc Brown wanted McFly to visit. Yet, the computerized DeLorean gave us glimpse into our future, one that is complete with computerized cars that leave vital data vulnerable for hackers to steal at best and manipulate at worst.
When it comes to computerized cars, an intricate labyrinth of wires and terminals hold the cyber key to your most important secrets. Referred to the Controller Area Network (CAN), the computer operating inside your vehicle represents a highly complicated virtual network that does everything from order coffee online to using an established credit card to activate a wide variety of features that keep you and your family safe.
Benefits of connected cars
Also referred to as connected vehicles, computerized cars offer consumers several benefits:
- Better vehicle dependability
- Enhanced air quality
- More access for people suffering from mental and/or physical limitations
- Improved driver and passenger safety
- Electronic emergency features
- Optimized fuel consumption
However, for each benefit offered by connected cars, there are additional digital security issues that at the very least counteract the many benefits. The digital vulnerabilities include cyber security attacks that can lead to drained bank accounts and a brake system that can no longer stop on a dime
Overview of security threats
Several research studies have determined four primary features of computerized vehicles that require extensive investigation. Online activities often include a commercial component that makes regulating the modern version of the Back to the Future DeLorean difficult to do. Lobbying by businesses operating in virtually every sector places immense pressure on politicians to capitulate to private sector deregulation demands. Second, connected cars contain a vast amount of parts and accessories that come from all across the world, which makes it difficult to account for cybersecurity protections. Third, rapidly changing technological breakthroughs make it virtually impossible for politicians to stay on top of the security vulnerabilities exposed by computerized cars. Finally, we have the capability of hackers to adjust to every cybersecurity measure implemented by the manufacturers of connected vehicle components.
Think about this scenario: you’re driving down a rural two-lane road when all of the sudden, the brakes on your car stop working. Your vehicle also veers unexpectedly outside the wide white lines that define both driving lanes. The computerized car you own seems to have developed its own less-than-critical-thinking skills, which places you on the doorstep of a significant crash.
The car might have experienced a major computer malfunction or it was the recipient of a cyber attack implemented by a nefarious hacker. In either case, connected cars are incredibly vulnerable to serious safety errors that range from faulty brake systems to malfunctioning acceleration parts. Hackers already possess the ability to compromise the security systems of corporate, government, and military facilities. It’s not a stretch to plan for cybersecurity threats presented to automobiles. Shrewd criminals can steal the data generated by connected cars that operate numerous safety features.
The potential for physical disaster is just one way a stolen computerized car data can harm you and your family. We also have to deal with the threat hackers may pose for stealing personal information, especially the credit or debit card information you enter in a car computer to order a latte from Starbucks, or finalize the payment for an expensive entertainment accessory. Stealing your personal financial data at gas pumps remains a popular and effective method to gain access to bank and credit card accounts. Nonetheless, your car is now the primary target of identity thieves who have to do nothing more than input a few lines of code into a handheld electronic device to turn your world upside down.
What lies ahead
The future of computerized cars carries with it many more unknowns than technological certainties. Yet, we should learn from past lessons to understand what lies ahead for connected vehicles. Although a major disaster, such as a pile-up of cars on a congested interstate during rush hour has not happened because of a cyber attack on one or more vehicles, that doesn’t mean the future isn’t capable of unfolding a series of events that lead to a massive catastrophe caused by compromising vehicle computer systems. We typically react, rather than proactively handle technical issues. As an Argus executive stated in a recent interview, it’s only a matter of time before an attack on a computerized car leads to a history-altering event.
He said, “A major auto cybersecurity event could happen tomorrow. We all collectively need to come to grips with this. The hacking capabilities are out there right now. The vulnerabilities are out there right now. I do think that attacks will begin to take place unless we take this threat more seriously.”