Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is recalling 1.4 million vehicles—not for a manufacturing flaw or a faulty part, but for a vulnerability to hacking. The company deemed the recall necessary after two software programmers demonstrated how easy it was to remotely tamper with a Jeep Cherokee’s radio, air conditioning, dashboard display, windshield wipers, brakes and transmission.
This hack is an example of what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—a vulnerability in a piece of software that the vendor is unaware of. In the case of Fiat, hackers, through wireless access gained via the Internet, sent commands through the vehicle’s entertainment system, taking control of any number of vehicle functions. This could, in theory, be performed from a laptop across the country.
But this type of vulnerability isn’t limited to Fiat vehicles, as most auto companies produce models that are susceptible to breaches. Industry leaders like General Motors, Ford and Toyota are atop a long list of auto makers believed to be the most susceptible to hacking.
As vehicles become increasingly connected, the risk of hacking becomes more apparent and no longer limited to select models. By 2022, an estimated 82.5 million automobiles worldwide will be connected to the Internet.
Since the hack, Fiat has taken strides to prevent remote manipulation by distributing USB drives to vehicle owners that they may use to upgrade vehicle software and deter hackers—but that may not be enough. While automakers are aware of cyber risks and are even taking steps to prevent attacks, experts say that the auto industry is far behind when it comes to cyber security and that current solutions aren’t yet strong enough to thwart hackers.
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