The push for better cybersecurity in cars

GettyImages-462675874.jpg
Google's Chris Urmson shows a Google self-driving car to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt at the Google headquarters on February 2, in Mountain View, California.  D Gorenstein
GettyImages-462675874.jpg
Google's Chris Urmson shows a Google self-driving car to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt at the Google headquarters on February 2, in Mountain View, California.  D Gorenstein

The push for better cybersecurity in cars

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Over the next few days, members of the automotive industry are gathering in Detroit for this year’s Autonomous Cars Conference, and one of the big issues facing the field is cybersecurity for vehicles.

Last month, you may remember, a Wired Magazine reporter lost control of his transmission, driving 70 miles an hour on a highway in St. Louis as a sort of demonstration project set up by “white hat” hackers. If there had been any doubt whether new cars rolling off the assembly line are at risk, last month’s stunt answers that clearly.

“Theoretically, hackers can take control over all control of the car, the steering wheel, can take control of the brakes, can take control of the engine and shut it off,” says Pete Samson, with the firm Security Innovation.

If your vehicle’s computer is networked to any other computer, your vehicle is vulnerable. Kathleen Fisher of Tufts University says automakers are beginning to recognize that now they must become software companies too.

“It’s going to take significantly more investment in the software that is running the cars written to higher standards of quality,” she says. “It’s going to take a culture of assuming hackers are trying to break in and thinking in a defensive mindset.”

Fisher says a bill moving through the Senate, the Spy Car Act, may force the industry to make necessary changes. If done right, she says, that could make hacking so hard, attackers would look for easier marks.