Journal of Information & Privacy Law

Can Your Car Be Controlled By Hackers?

By Drago Putica on Friday, December 2nd, 2016
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Imagine you are driving on a highway on a nice summer day when, unexpectedly, the radio turns to a horrible station, your wipers turn on, the heat starts blasting, and you eventually lose all control of your car’s steering and acceleration. This horrible situation can actually become a reality within today’s automotive industry due to vehicles’ processing capacity, which can potentially affect thousands of cars in the market. Hackers are able to send commands remotely through some car’s entertainment systems and control almost all of the car’s functions.

Although there have not been any reported injuries thus far, there is a grave need to address this issues. Many automotive manufacturers have become so large, they are “too big to fail” which was shown by the massive government loan given to Chrysler when the company was close to filing for bankruptcy just a few years ago. There are also millions of potentially affected consumers to consider.

For example, an article published by WIRED which shows two hackers, who were miles away, performing a controlled hack on a vehicle. At first the hackers did simple things like control the climate in the car, blasting the radio (which could not be turned off by the driver) and then the wipers turned on along with the wiper fluid which decreased the driver’s visibility. Then the unthinkable, the hackers were able to stop the transmission from working, causing the vehicle to come to a near stop. The hackers are also able to access the vehicle’s braking system and partially control the steering system. All of this can be done remotely from the safety of one’s home.

Although there have not been any reported injuries from vehicle hacks, there have been cases where people have claimed that their doors were unlocked remotely and the contents of their vehicle were stolen. There is also a class action lawsuit against Chrysler which can be found at Flynn v. FCA US LLC, No. 15-cv-855, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130614 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 23, 2016). Although the district court has only ruled on preliminary matters, this class action suit is based on a products liability claim for loss of value in Chrysler cars. Although there have been recalls on Chrysler vehicles to address this issue, and as safe as Chrysler claims their cars are now after the recall, it begs the question: Are auto manufacturers doing enough to ensure that their vehicles are safe from hackers. This would require an entirely new division within the automotive industry to specifically address information technology concerns in addition to people’s privacy. It would require encryption software and constant updates to ensure that hackers have not found a new way to control vehicles. The battle between auto manufacturers and hackers will create a plethora of new jobs for the foreseeable future within the auto industry as the battle is seemingly endless, especially now that people are aware of the potential hacks.

Who would have ever though that the use of technology in cars could leave them susceptible to hacking? There is definitely a demand for new technology in cars for them to adapt to this ever changing technological world today. Technology makes cars more user friendly for the drivers and passengers. Technology also makes cars more efficient because the majority of new cars have computers controlling the functions within them. Furthermore, this technology makes the vehicles easier to fix. But the question still remains, should the automotive manufacturers be liable for hacks from remote third parties? Should there be a minimum standard set by the government to ensure that physical injuries or even death will not occur at the hands of a hacker?

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