Right now, we're watching the biggest shift in the automotive world since the Model T. Hybrids and electric cars are going mainstream, new materials are going to make cars lighter and tougher for better fuel economy, and cars are getting smarter at an astounding rate.
While that last one is inching us closer to the future of self-driving cars, it's also creating a very real danger. Cars have included computers for decades, but they were isolated from each other and the outside world. In modern cars, everything is connected together and exposed to outside threats.
We saw that last year with the Chrysler hack. Security researchers managed to take control of a car from miles away, and mess with the onboard systems before finally steering it off the road. That led to a recall of 1.4 million vehicles to patch the onboard entertainment system, which is what gave the researchers access to the underlying systems.
While that was scary, it also took the researchers two years to put together and required specialized knowledge of the car. Newer cars, however, could be open to much simpler attacks.
According to a joint statement of the FBI and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, newer car models could be open to a type of phishing attack. That's because car makers are following the lead of electric-car maker Tesla's and enabling over-the-air software updates. This is what lets Tesla enable new features and fix problems on its cars without requiring a trip to the dealership.
Many newer cars, however, will also include Web browsers in the built-in infotainment systems. If a hacker can trick a driver or passenger into visiting a malicious site from the car's browser, they could potentially send the car a fake update and trick it into installing.
That could give the hacker control of the vehicle or just mess up the vehicle's systems. It could display the wrong speed, mess up the distance calculations for the adaptive cruise control, re-calibrate the steering or whatever else the hacker wants to do. Imagine a ransomware virus that shuts down your car in the middle of nowhere and forces you to pay to make it work again.
Hopefully, following the Chrysler recall and other car hacks since, car makers have thought a bit harder about security in their new systems. You can bet security researchers and hackers will be testing new cars as they come on the market for weaknesses. Let's hope there aren't any to find.
Does this change your thoughts on technology in cars? Are you ready to go buy a classic car with no computers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.