Strewn about your car are dozens of tiny computers. Thanks to the creeping takeover of the engine and other automotive systems by electronic control units, they’re working behind the scenes to control everything—your lights, your horn, your breaks and steering. And anytime you install a computer in something, a skilled hacker can probably take it over. That’s exactly what two security researchers showed Forbes writer Andy Greenberg last month when they took control of the Prius he was driving.
As I drove their vehicles for more than an hour, Miller and Valasek showed that they’ve reverse-engineered enough of the software of the Escape and the Toyota Prius (both the 2010 model) to demonstrate a range of nasty surprises: everything from annoyances like uncontrollably blasting the horn to serious hazards like slamming on the Prius’ brakes at high speeds. They sent commands from their laptops that killed power steering, spoofed the GPS and made pathological liars out of speedometers and odometers. Finally they directed me out to a country road, where Valasek showed that he could violently jerk the Prius’ steering at any speed, threatening to send us into a cornfield or a head-on collision. “Imagine you’re driving down a highway at 80 ,” Valasek says. “You’re going into the car next to you or into oncoming traffic. That’s going to be bad times.”
The hackers’ approach involved ripping parts of the car apart so that they could hook their laptop to the cars’ systems. But this kind of hacking takeover could be done remotely, too, says Greenberg.
The hack is a reminder that as we continue to connect everything we have, smart toilets, smart watches, smart home monitoring systems, we’re opening up more and more aspects of our lives to potential manipulation by malicious hackers, or even just joking pranksters.
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