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The hacker's next target-the family car
Posted on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 8:28 AM

Automakers are cramming cars with wireless technology, but they have failed to adequately protect those features against the real possibility that hackers could take control of vehicles or steal personal data, a U.S. Senator claims.

Meanwhile, Stephen Zidek, an assistant professor in the intelligence studies program at Mercyhurst University, sees some merit in those concerns.

Basing his argument on information provided by manufacturers, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey has concluded that "many in the automotive industry really don't understand what the implications are of moving to this new computer-based era" of the automobile.

The Massachusetts Democrat has asked automakers a series of questions about the technologies -- and any safeguards against hackers -- that may or may not have been built into the latest models of their vehicles. He also asked what protections have been provided to ensure that information computers gather and often transmit wirelessly isn't used in a harmful or invasive manner.

"Should we be concerned?" asked Zidek. "Of course. You can see all sorts of scenarios playing out down the road."

Zidek, who worked as an intelligence officer for the U.S. government and was vice president and director of the Anti-Piracy Intelligence Center at the Motion Picture Association in Los Angeles, said it's possible to imagine a terrorist group taking over the president's car.

"It sounds like a Clancy novel, but when it comes to using technology like that in our highly complex cars, imagination is the only limitation."

In Washington, Markey said the movement of the automobile from the combustion engine era to the computer era carries wide implications. "No longer do you need a crowbar to break into an automobile," he said in the interview. "You can do it with an iPad."

Markey posed his questions after researchers showed how hackers can get into the controls of some popular cars and SUVs, causing them suddenly to accelerate, turn, sound the horn, turn headlights off or on and modify speedometer and gas-gauge readings.

The responses from 16 manufacturers "reveal there is a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers," a report by Markey's staff concludes.

All this technology carries with it the potential for abuse, but Zidek argues that risk has to be put into perspective.

"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "This is where you have to assess how vulnerable you are," weighing the benefits against the risks.

The benefits could include technology that will help police find your missing car. The downside might be the disclosure to your insurance company that you drive too fast.

"If you are going to buy a modern day car you can expect to be exposed to all kinds of technology," Zidek said. "If you don't want that, you should buy a '73 Pinto."

One thing is certain, he said, there is no going backward, no removing technology from our lives.

"You can't stop technology," he said. "There is no way."

Erie Times News, February 10, 2015


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