Jones & Swanson

Auto Makers Face Hacker Vulnerability Allegations

We all remember the Toyota acceleration defect nightmare that occurred between 2009 and 2013, a defect affecting about 11 million vehicles. This automobile defect was due to accelerators that jammed and caused vehicle to accelerate without drivers’ intending them to. Fortunately, this defect is said to have been corrected, but not without numerous injury, wrongful death, and class action claims were brought against Toyota.

While this unfortunately defect was blamed on manufacturing errors in Toyota vehicles, a new fear is circling auto manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors, and Toyota. It has been reported that the vulnerability of hacking is high in a majority of vehicles on roadways today. Wireless technologies could pose a threat to driver safety, as well as privacy, as automobiles become more and more dependent on sophisticated electronic structures. In February, a report was released stating that smart phones, wireless networks, and systems such as OnStar could pose a hacking vulnerability that would allow vehicles to unexpectedly accelerate, deactivate braking, turn, and more. Hackers could potentially access a vehicle’s navigation and location/driving history as well. Because of the state-of-the-art technologies employed in vehicles as a standard, drivers rely on technologies that may lead to cyber-attacks on our safety and security.

This vulnerability was proven in a “60 Minute” segment that featured a new vehicle being hacked into with a laptop computer. The vehicle’s horn was sounded, brakes were deactivated, and windshield wipers turned on from this remote computer without the driver’s control. While no reports have surfaced of this hacking taking place in a real world environment, it is still worrisome to drivers on roadways today. One hacking capability that has been proven is that doors can be unlocked remotely with software purchasable on the web. Because this motor vehicle vulnerability is already an issue, the potential for further hacking vulnerabilities may be abundant.

The NHTSA is investigating these potential vulnerabilities, so we hope that they do not cause future accidents. As our technologies advance, our security systems must advance as well so that drivers are safe behind the wheel.

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