McAffee Issues Warning of Hackable Cars

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As we reported back in August, the embedding of high technology into our automobiles might soon lead to car thefts featuring something a bit more technically involved than simply smashing a window and hot-wiring a car. We postulated then it seems that perhaps we’re becoming way too dependent upon our technology to the point where we’re sacrificing our safety in exchange for new creature comforts in our automobiles.

Our August report discussed how researchers from iSec Partners had demonstrated a quick attack on a Subaru Outback using phones running Google’s Android OS, a technique they described as “war texting.” In short, they set up a private GSM network to intercept password authentication messages between their smartphone and the security system of the Subaru, and were able to take control of the car and even start it.

We mentioned then that while the car theft angle was certainly troubling, there were far worse possibilities to worry about. Now computer anti-virus and security firm McAffee is getting into the game, issuing a report entitled “Warning: Malware Ahead” that cautions embedded systems in our cars might expose our vehicles to attack from hackers.

As McAffee states, embedded devices are used in almost every system on cars these days, including airbags, entertainment systems, power seats, anti-lock braking system, electronic stability control, autonomous cruise control, communication system, and in-vehicle communication. The security company warns that they have “a concern that as the industry advances, there has been little done to ensure the security of these systems.”

We agree. Nothing could be more terrifying than someone with ill-intent taking control of critical systems like braking, especially if they have the ability to shut down such controls. Super-smart cars, like the autonomous ones being developed by companies such as Google, that drive themselves seem to be an even scarier target for such malware.

We’ll continue watching this critical area of automotive security and hope that car manufacturers will keep security at the forefront of new technological adaptations as they’re applied to our cars.

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