Are future vehicular hacks inevitable?

Before the hack of the Uconnect system in a Jeep Cherokee resulted in a 1.4-million vehicle recall, the potential software vulnerabilities in vehicles were already a hot topic with Congressional inquiries and even proposed legislation in the US. As cars’ interconnected systems gain the ability to go online, they become open to a host of new threats. Automakers are trying to stop this, but it might be too late to put the genie back into the bottle.

Throughout 2015, the issue of software security in vehicles has become increasingly vital. For example, the recent Jeep case wasn’t even the biggest hack this year. In February, a major flaw was discovered in the BMW Connected Drive service that allowed researchers to remotely lock and unlock the doors and potentially affected 2.2 million cars. The fix was an over-the-air patch for the problem.

Automakers are actively working to fix the issues. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi reportedly are using encrypted connections and firewalls in their vehicles to prevent hacking. “Absolute, 100-percent safety isn’t possible,” Daimler spokesperson Benjamin Oberkersch said to Automotive News Europe. “But we develop our systems, tested by internal and external experts, so they’re up to date.”

These vulnerabilities seem to be popping up more often. A successful hack took $14 in parts from Radio Shack in one case. There was also a 60 Minutes report earlier in the year about DARPA’s ability to hack into OnStar to take control of a Chevrolet Impala.

Experts aren’t so sure companies can contend with hackers’ advancement. “The difficulty for the carmakers at the moment is the question whether they can keep pace with advances in technology, and especially hacking technology,” Rainer Scholz, executive director for telematics consultant EY, said to Automotive News Europe. “We seriously doubt they can.”

At this point, vehicle hacks are coming more from researchers looking for holes than from those with malicious intent. Still, the vulnerabilities are definitely there. It’s up to automakers to keep patching the problems before they become dangerous to drivers.

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