Hackers compromise Prius, seize control of wheel, brakes and moreThu, 25 Jul 2013 00:00:00 -0700
As an enthusiast, you're probably already worried about an autonomous car ripping the joy -- and the steering wheel -- from your hands.
Now, according to Andy Greenberg at Forbes, you also have to worry about hackers ripping the steering wheel out of your car's hands (boy, do we feel strange writing that). That's because a car's computerized systems are as prone to hacking as your malware-laden desktop. In theory, at least.
Greenberg's story includes a video shot inside a Toyota Prius compromised by Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, two programmers who received a DARPA grant to probe automotive security systems (or the lack thereof). With Greenberg at the wheel, the pair disabled brakes, sounded the horn obnoxiously, torqued the steering wheel and even tightened the seatbelts.
It's a startling clip and an even more startling concept, because as much as we'd love to see every Prius barrel off the road and into a deep, deep, ditch, we'd rather not have that happen while the Prius drivers are inside -- and it's not just hybrids that are at risk.
It's all very concerning.
Fortunately, there are a few factors that make the dreaded death-by-hacker situation a bit unlikely at the moment. The amount of work required to gain access to a car's control systems seems preclude stealth; we'd hope you'd notice someone disassembling you car in your garage over the course of several hours (this doesn't preclude some sort of futuristic wireless hacking).
More importantly, showing that this kind of devious deed can be done should make automakers take security more seriously when designing onboard digital systems. Exposing system flaws before they become problems is a hobby for many hackers; in the video, you can tell Miller and Valasek are having a blast messing with Greenberg as he attempts to keep the Prius on the road. You know there's never any real risk of harm -- they're right behind Greenberg in the back seat, after all.
Besides, creative vehicular assassinations have been around since the birth of the automobile: Rigged brakes, a nudge off a guard rail-less canyon road -- and don't forget the good ol' fashioned car bomb (so long as your mark isn't driving a 1981 Cadillac Eldorado). Hacking is just the newest and flashiest form of causing (largely hypothetical) four-wheeled chaos, and it will likely remain about as much of a threat to the average driver as the above tactics.
The exceptionally paranoid can stick to non-autonomous, carbureted cars free of silicon chips and operated with mechanical linkages in place of wires -- which, come to think of it, seems like a pretty good solution on all fronts.
By Graham Kozak