Is your new vehicle vulnerable to computer hackers, other intruders?

021915 SC Is Your New Vehicle Vulnerable
Photo: – Least hackable 2014 Dodge Viper.

It had to happen.

As if it isn’t enough to worry about our computers or smart phones getting hacked …

Now we are learning that our smart vehicles, increasingly loaded with sophisticated computer and wireless technology, are vulnerable to hackers, too.

A new study released by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) found that “nearly 100 percent of [new] cars” include wireless technologies that could be vulnerable to hacking or privacy intrusions.

The concern includes safety issues with the potential for hackers to gain control of vehicles.

The report, “Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk,” cites research that “demonstrated [researchers’] ability to connect a laptop to two different vehicles’ computer systems using a cable, send commands to different [electronic control units] … and thereby control the engine, brakes, steering and other critical vehicle components.”

In their initial tests, the researchers “were able to cause cars to suddenly accelerate, turn, kill the brakes, activate the horn, control the headlights, and modify the speedometer and gas gauge readings.”

Those same researchers then looked at 21 different models from 10 different manufacturers to assess their vulnerability to hacking and reported their findings in “Survey of Remote Attack Surfaces.” The report is loaded with technical information but also includes short lists of the least and most hackable vehicles and a detailed vulnerability analysis of the tested vehicles.

“These findings reveal that there is a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers who may be able to take control of a vehicle or against those who may wish to collect and use personal driver information,” said the Markey study’s executive summary.

Among the safety standards recommended by the Markey study:

  • Ensuring that vehicles with wireless access points and data-collecting features are protected against hacking events and security breaches.
  • Validation of security systems using penetration testing.
  • Including measures that allow drivers to respond to real-time hacking events.

“Today’s cars and light trucks contain more than 50 separate electronic control units, connected through a controller area network or other network,” the Markey study says. “Vehicle functionality, safety and privacy all depend on the functions of these small computers, as well as their ability to communicate with one another. … As vehicles continue to become more integrated with wireless technology, there are more avenues through which a hacker could introduce malicious code.”

So be extra careful out there – and watch for security updates from your vehicle manufacturer.