Could a 14-year-old computer hacker in Indonesia remotely take over control of your car as you drive down the Interstate, cause the car to dangerously accelerate and kill you by crashing it?
That’s the scenario raised and explained by AOL Autos in a story about the threat of terrorists and cars — and one that drew a fairly quick rebuke from auto site Jalopnik as unwarranted “fearmongering.”
The government is taking threats of carhacking seriously enough that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened up a “cyber terrorism department” to sort out software issues that could make cars vulnerable to attack, AOL Autos says.
When Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., raised the issue of cyber car terrorism at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, he was told that university researcher had succeeded in hacking into cars’ electronics systems and were able to perform stunts like turning the engine on and off.
Jalopnik, however, in its typically unvarnished way, calls the findings into question.
“While technically some of what’s described in the article is certainly true, the fear-mongering tone, calculated to terrify the rapidly aging AOL dial-up readership, is uncalled for at this point,” its post says.
Yes, cars are packed with computers, but few can be accessed wirelessly from outside the car. It noted that researchers said they probably would need an additional attachment to a car’s computer brains to really take it over. Plus, some of the kinds of systems that might make a car vulnerable aren’t really deployed yet.
Nissan, for instance, is one of the first with drive-by-wire steering, and so far, it’s is limited to one luxury model, the Infiniti Q50.
There are also backup safety systems and the software is written in a way that emphasizes safety and redundancy.
It’s getting easier to see why people care about far-fetched possibilities of computer hacking. The film Fast and Furious 6 includes a chase scene in which the bad guys remotely control pursuing cars’ computer systems to make them crash at high speed.
The solution? The good guys switch to old-school cars that don’t have computers.