Could Terrorists Really Use Software To Crash Your Car?

A recent AOL online article titled “The Scary Truth Of How Terrorists Could Crash Your Car” freaked a lot of people out by implying that terrorists could easily hack into your car’s computer systems and wreck your car (or hundreds of cars at a time) at speeds exceeding 100 mph. While that is a scary thought to consider, the facts are quite a bit less severe than the article suggests. Nothing like some great sensationalist journalism, eh?

What really are the facts? Could you really be hacked driving your car?

  • Cars are more and more dependent on software and electronics to run everything in the car, including GPS, music, brake systems, your power train, throttle and more.
  • A new car is a rolling computer with 80 to 100 microprocessors and more than 100 million lines of software code.
  • Researchers from the University of Washington and UC San Diego recently were able to successfully hack into an ordinary sedan, lock and unlock the doors, turn the engine on and off and listen to a conversation going on.
  • In another experiment, researchers compromised an auto repair “pass-through device” that helps technicians diagnose problems, which then allowed them to install software on every car that touched that device, potentially allowing them to control a wide range of auto functions on those cars.
  • New studies are being done on how to use wireless connectivity in cars to help avoid accidents, route traffic more effectively and make our travels even safer (over 90% of accidents are due to human error, and smarter cars can potentially fix that).

But the truth of the matter is that, although cars are packed with computers, very few systems can currently be controlled wirelessly from outside the car. In all reality, someone would likely need to install an additional attachment to your car’s computer system to really take it over.

Stay tuned, however, as I’m sure that this is going to be an ongoing discussion for many years to come.

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