In an unprecedented move, this week US Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent an open letter to 20 car manufacturers requesting they take a second look at the way they handle the threat of hackers and over-the-air attacks.
Markey believes that automakers such as Ford, Honda, BMW, Audi, Chrysler, Mazda, and Subaru (among a laundry list of others), should be taking the security of their vehicles more seriously than they have while slowly incorporating advanced computing systems into their cars over the past decade or so.
“Today’s cars and light trucks contain more than 50 separate electronic control units (ECUs), connected through a controller area network (CAN) or other network,” Markey said. “Vehicle functionality, safety and privacy all depend on the functions of these small computers, as well as their ability to communicate with one another.”
This year, the White Housea study to find out how vulnerable a car is to outside influences like hackers, and the results were unsettling to say the least. By gaining access to the dashboard of a Toyota Prius, the team responsible for finding these vulnerabilities was able to turn the car off mid-drive, and even lock the steering column remotely while the vehicle was still in motion.
By tapping into the bluetooth link that many cars come with as a standard these days, researchers were able to gain access to the car’s central computer through an infected text sent to any paired devices within proximity.
Many cars which utilize a self-parking system have the ability to control the steering, gas, and brakes from the CAN, and if an unauthorized user were to somehow gain access to this part of the system, the results could be catastrophic.
The senator also proposed several questions regarding privacy, inquiring what these companies do with the data they collect on their customers such as navigation history, driver profiles, car location and distance measurements.
He has asked that the companies respond to these issues by January 3rd, and the Auto Alliance (an alliance of 12 auto manufacturers inquiried by Markey), have already issued a statement claiming the security of their flagship vehicles is a top priority, and that the industry is working feverishly to protect their products on a day-to-day basis.