Wired Magazine recently published a gem of an article where hackers managed to hack in to a Fiat Chrysler Jeep. Once they had complete control they managed to change the radio station, increase the volume, turn the wipers on, squirt wiper fluid on the glass, switch the air conditioning to full on, and finally disabled the transmission. Apparently they can not only do this they can also kill the engine, disable the brakes, tighten the seatbelt and even steer it at low speeds.
I have to be honest up until the time I learned of this hack I didn’t actually know that it was to possible to stop let alone steer a vehicle remotely. I had heard of car tech that report on the state of their engines and electricals as well as of course navigation. But I never thought they actually also reported whether the a/c was being used or what radio station was being listened to and at what volume. Of course at the back of my mind I knew that information could be collected so car manufacturers can sell it to marketers who can then tailor fit advertisements to specific clients or god knows what else, but it still seemed all so detestable considering the tech being used is so amazing yet it is being used for such trivial reasons.
Some other thoughts.
Gratuitous technology is essentially the use of tech for it’s own sake. In this case for example someone may have proven it is possible to connect the steering to a motor which in turn is connected to Uconnect, the system that interconnects all these and sends data purportedly to your phone and in some cases the manufacturer, and the system the Fiat Chrysler Jeep is using. Sure they can be connected with each other, and sure you can find a way to steer the car remotely, but it begs the question – Why? I mean, one cool thing plus another cool thing plus another etc., probably produces something cool too, but is it about being cool or is it about being necessary?
Navigation systems are of course extremely helpful in keeping you from getting lost and helps you find the best route to get to where you’re going. Uconnect however and other systems like it deals with entertainment options, lets you make and receive calls, allows voice commands for these functions, lets you get online, etc. etc. All nice and flashy for sure, but you can certainly live without them and in some cases – such as Internet access, you have to wonder if isn’t distracting. And anything distracting in a car is dangerous.
How The Automaker Responds Is Typical Of An Industry Learning How To Deal With Hackers.
Wired’s article isn’t so much about the hack itself as it is the automaker’s reaction to the hack which ranged from dismissive to ‘ok we’ll admit it BUT..’, resulting in statements such as “Under no circumstances (do we) condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose ‘how-to information’ that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems, We appreciate the contributions of cybersecurity advocates to augment the industry’s understanding of potential vulnerabilities. However, we caution advocates that in the pursuit of improved public safety they not, in fact, compromise public safety.”
This is VERY typical of the time when years ago hackers were exposing issues MS Windows, and MS basically reacted to them as if they were criminals. Essentially they wisened up and learned to deal with hackers, at least the ‘white hat’ variety, as allies, and even started offering bounties to people who can report bugs in their software.
The idea of telling people who discovered problems with your product to shut up about it is a disingenuous strategy to begin with. In the case of car software and the very real possibility of accidents and deaths occurring, people need to know about it and the issue should be published and addressed immediately. Downplaying or worse, hiding the issue does not make it go away and will probably assure that an accident will occur.
There is now a market for analog cars, or at least the option to have a disconnected car.
I love cars even more than tech, and am purist as hell. So I look upon all these gratuitousness with much shaking of head. I don’t even like cars that can park themselves. To me, if you do not know how to park your car properly you probably should not be driving at all. I don’t care how well the technology works or how hard it is to parallel park. If I, and countless others, are able to do it you should too.
It’s important whether you’re a techie or a gearhead to know and realize which enhancements really do enhance or just form a lot of clutter – and there is nothing that speaks of clutter more to me than that Uconnect device and those like it.
You would be out of your mind if you thought it’s ok if your brakes can be remotely activated, and all doors can suddenly lock in the middle of a highway. So this issue is about as damaging to these carmakers as much as a report that their engines explode without warning.
It is therefore appropriate that carmakers start selling cars WITHOUT these tech doodads or at least offer it as an option (a ‘non – option’?). I am looking forward to that and have no doubt a sizable portion of the motoring public would welcome them as well.