As we move into the “internet of things”–objects and devices connected to the internet–we are learning that those things can be hacked. This is especially true of late-model automobiles, which are packed with computers and online connections. Hackers can access your car via OnStar, navigation systems, diagnostic programs, bluetooth connections, etc., etc., whereupon they can unlock your doors, start your engine, turn your steering wheel, and shut off your brakes, among other kinds of havoc.
Craig Timberg has written a fascinating article on how all of this is done and the little that automakers are doing to stop it.
The complaints that flooded into Texas Auto Center that maddening, mystifying week were all pretty much the same: Customers’ cars had gone haywire. Horns started honking in the middle of the night, angering neighbors, waking babies. Then when morning finally came, the cars refused to start.
The staff suspected malfunctions in a new Internet device, installed behind dashboards of secondhand cars, that allowed the dealership to remind customers of overdue payments by taking remote control of some vehicle functions. But a check of the dealership’s computers suggested something more sinister at work: Texas Auto Center had been hacked.In addition to blaring horns and disabling starters, someone had replaced listings of Dodges and Chevrolets with names of top-of-the-line sports cars. The owners of these vehicles, meanwhile, now appeared to be an odd mix of rappers and fictional characters.
“Mickey Mouse was driving a Lamborghini,” recalled Martin Garcia, general manager of the Austin dealership. “We pretty much figured out within a matter of minutes that we had a problem.”
Police later reported more than 100 victims and charged a former dealership employee with computer crimes. Five years later, this incident remains noteworthy because of what has followed: An increasingly vast array of machines — from prison doors to airplane engines to heart defibrillators — have joined what is commonly called the “Internet of Things,” meaning they are wired into our borderless, lawless, insecure online world.
As the number of connected devices explodes — from roughly 2 billion in 2010, the year of the Texas Auto Center incident, to an estimated 25 billion by 2020 — security researchers have repeatedly shown that most online devices can be hacked. Some have begun calling the “Internet of Things,” known by the abbreviation IOT, the “Internet of Targets.”