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The Next Big Security Risk: Your Car

A friend posted on Facebook recently, “Sitting in the driveway waiting for my car to update its software. Haha. This is a first.” That Facebook post got me thinking about how much capability the technology inside our vehicles possess these days. The benefits are significant and undeniable but what about the risks? I quickly realized I was not alone. Car computer hacking is here. Discussing this capability consumed the first few hours of this year’s Defcon hacker conference. Read the full article and watch the video (See Link 1).

Although it’s getting some visibility in the hacker community, it’s not a mainstream security concern. Security expert Professor Alan Woodward, Chief Technology Officer at Charteris suggests this is because there hasn’t been any criminal incident of it reported (See Link 2). To most, hacking cars is viewed as the stuff of sci-fi or action thriller movies. For example, a car crash caused by a hacked car was featured as a storyline on the US TV series Homeland but nothing like that has happened in the real world. But what if it did? Imagine the first, second, and third order effects if someone were able to cause multiple cars to cause multiple accidents simultaneously across major commuting routes into and out of the beltway area. Car accidents alone would have significant paralyzing effect on DoD operations and decision-making. The reality is that this type of exploitation is well within the realm of the possible. The potential for exploitation and use of autonomous vehicles as disruptive technology is very real; and downright scary.

What’s the message? THINK. When people build things based on software, it is built with Intention A, call this the intended benefit. Most of us are very good at figuring out how new technology can benefit us. We don’t always intuitively think about intention B, which could be all sorts of nefarious purposes.

Link 1:
Link 2:
Photo courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano

By: Joe Benson, Program Manager/FSO