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Senators call for investigation of potential safety, security threats from connected cars

Lucas Mearian | July 29, 2015
A week after it was revealed that a Chrysler Jeep could be hacked and remotely controlled, two U.S. senators have called for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate potential widespread risk for consumers.

driverless connected cars automated 2
Credit: Stephen Sauer

A week after it was revealed that a Chrysler Jeep could be hacked and remotely controlled, two U.S. senators have called for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate potential widespread risk for consumers.

In a letter to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, U.S. Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said they see potential vulnerabilities in auto information and entertainment systems.

"We were deeply troubled to learn that these software defects can be exploited by malicious hackers to potentially wreak havoc on our roads," the letter states. "These revelations highlight the acute risks now facing modern motorists as automakers continue to connect cars ever closer to the digital world."

Last week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the world's seventh largest automaker, issued a recall notice for 1.4 million vehicles to fix a software hole that allowed hackers to wirelessly break into some vehicles and electronically control vital functions.

Markey criticized Chrysler's response to the revelation that its UConnect telematics or infotainment system had been wirelessly hacked.

"Despite knowing about this security gap for nearly nine months, Chrysler is only now recalling 1.4 million vehicles to fix [it], and there are no assurances that these vehicles are the only ones that are this unprotected from cyberattack," Markey said in a statement. "A safe and fully-equipped vehicle should be one that is equipped to protect drivers from hackers and thieves."

Using a cellular connection to the car, the hackers -- both security professionals -- demonstrated how they could remotely gain access to the UConnect telematics system in a 2014 Jeep Cherokee and control the entertainment system, brakes, transmission, ignition and other critical functions.

"We could have easily done the same thing on one of the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable vehicles on the road," Charlie Miller,  one of the two hackers, told Computerworld.

The NHTSA also said last week that it plans to look into how effective FCA's software patch will be in keeping its vehicles from being vulnerable to computer hackers.

While the defect was only discovered on Chrysler's Jeep UConnect head unit, the senators implored the NHTSA to look into cybersecurity vulnerabilities in other wireless connected cars to eliminate safety risks posed by malicious hackers.

The only solution is being aware an attack has happened

Egil Juliussen, research director for IHS Automotive, said the only way to truly protect connected cars and their myriad of embedded computer systems is to be able to detect an attack and stop it as it's happening. A major flaw in security strategy is that people assume hackers can't get through a system's perimeter security, but with enough effort, any firewall can be breached, Juliussen said.

 

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