Cars are now sophisticated computers on wheels. The technological improvements have enabled them to approach the point that they may be able to drive themselves. But that means that, like any computer, they are also now vulnerable to hacks by people who can break into those computer systems and take control of the car out of the driver’s hands and operate it remotely.
In the video below, Wired magazine’s Andy Greenberg experiences first hand what it is like to be driving a Chrysler Jeep the control of which suddenly shifts from the driver to someone else they cannot see.
It is pretty scary to see and he describes what it felt like.
I was driving 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold.
Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass.
As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.
Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.
Miller and Valasek’s full arsenal includes functions that at lower speeds fully kill the engine, abruptly engage the brakes, or disable them altogether. The most disturbing maneuver came when they cut the Jeep’s brakes, leaving me frantically pumping the pedal as the 2-ton SUV slid uncontrollably into a ditch.
This was a demonstration of the hacking capabilities and Greenberg had been warned that his car would be taken over and that he would not come to any harm. But it still scared him and he panicked. Imagine if you were not expecting it. This possibility has triggered legislation to create new digital security standards for cars and trucks.