Yes, Someone Could Hack Your Car Right Now

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2016 Chevrolet Cruze Technology

UPDATE: FCA has issued a voluntarily recalled on all 14 million 2013, 2014 and select 2015 Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge vehicles with the 8.4-inch touchscreen. See your FCA dealer for more information. A complete list of vehicles is included at the end of this article.

There are all sorts of things that can go wrong with a car. Sometimes those things are annoying and expected like a worn windshield wiper or burned out headlight, but sometimes those things are dangerous. Problem with your brakes or steering are frightening and life-threatening. The latest threat doesn’t involve your car’s parts, but its technology as hackers show off how easy it is to take control of your car.

They demonstrated their power to a Wired journalist by pretty much scaring the crap out of him while he was behind the wheel of a Jeep Cherokee. Even though he knew they were going to do something, when it moved beyond messing with the radio and climate control to disengaging the transmission, the demonstration was terrifying.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) was quick to react and released a security patch to fix the problem. The quick fix was made easier because the hackers who performed this hack weren’t out to be malicious and notified FCA of the potential issue and how they accessed the system. Their goal is to prove to the automotive industry that the problem is a real one and that it needs to be addressed now.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

On Tuesday, Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal introduced a bill that would require a set of government standards to help ensure cars cannot be hacked and that our personal information is safe. It seems a reasonable reaction in the face of experiments like the one that revealed the FCA flaw, but you have to wonder if getting the government involved will make it better or worse.

The public, that’s you and me, is all too aware of how easily our lives can be hacked. I fully expect my Keurig machine to one day revolt and shoot coffee pods across the kitchen because everything is connected to everything and that means it can be hacked. Once upon a time we thought of this as being an issue with only computers, but it’s in every part of our lives.

The automakers know this and they do not want to be in FCA’s shoes today. None of them want to make headlines for being hacked. They’re in the business of selling cars and no one wants to buy a car they think someone could hack. It’s in the best interest of automakers to improve their systems so this can’t happen. The sad reality is, it’s going to happen anyway.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Banks have been trying to keep our data secure for years. That doesn’t stop hackers. It’s become so commonplace that it’s not even news anymore. Department stores, banks, and hospitals all have their data stolen despite security measures. Same thing will be true for hackers getting access to our cars.

The government can come up with all the rules and regulations it wants, but there’s always going to be someone who finds a way to hack into a system. If anything, laws to make cars less hackable could hurt. The government is a slow-moving machine and laws made years ago now inadvertently prevent improved technology on US roads. There are better cameras and headlights that we can’t have because old laws don’t work with new technologies.

Neither automakers nor the government can guarantee your car will never be hacked. The best automakers can do is to continually improve their security measures and take quick action when those inevitable breaches occur.

UPDATE:  Chrysler has voluntarily recalled select 2013, 2014 and 2015 Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler and Ram vehicles, only with the 8.4-inch touchscreen.

Affected are certain vehicles equipped with 8.4-inch touchscreens among the following populations:

  • 2013-2015 MY Dodge Viper specialty vehicles
  • 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups
  • 2013-2015 Ram 3500, 4500, 5500 Chassis Cabs
  • 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Cherokee SUVs
  • 2014-2015 Dodge Durango SUVs
  • 2015 MY Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans
  • 2015 Dodge Challenger sports coupes