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Could hackers turn our cars and trucks into remote-controlled "toys"?


It's one of those science fiction scenarios that is not so far-fetched. Everything on modern vehicles is run by computer. Many of those different parts and devices are wirelessly connected. And those connections are not always secure.

Experts worry that hackers - from terrorists to teenagers - could essentially hijack a moving motor vehicle, turning it into a giant remote-controlled toy. A big truck could be a powerful agent of destruction, and trucks may be most vulnerable to hacking because they are more extensively networked.

Industry experts and government regulators are attuned to the potential safety issues, especially at the dawn of self-driving vehicles. Hopefully, they are engineering security systems and failsafes to prevent access by outside parties.



In the Stephen King movie "Maximum Overdrive," the trucks become self-aware and turn on their creators. For now, the threat is human hackers with evil or mischievous intentions taking advantage of "smart car" technology to cause catastrophic truck accidents.

Researchers at the University of Michigan called attention to the problem with a frightening experiment. They tapped into an electronic port of a 2006 tractor cab. Through internal signals, they were able to make the truck accelerate, alter the dashboard readouts and disable part of the tractor-trailer's braking system. Every electronic system, from the GPS to the steering, could be vulnerable.

New trucking regulations for 2017 that mandate electronic logging are intended to make commercial trucks safer. But that tracking technology becomes another entry point that could be intercepted and manipulated by hackers.

Trucker Chris Guenther described to Overdrive magazine an unnerving ordeal while driving his big rig down the highway. When the onboard computer glitched, he called the mechanic, who was able to remotely reboot the truck's system. That had the unintended effect of shutting down not only his dashboard electronics but his engine, power steering and air brakes. The sudden loss of control, triggered accidentally from afar, could have been disastrous for Guenther and anyone else on the road. What if someone with bad intentions hacked in through the same wireless frequency to disrupt or take control of an 18-wheeler?

Such a scenario also raises legal issues. Is a trucking firm liable for an accident triggered by criminal tampering by third parties? Perhaps, if the company failed to secure its networks or install software updates.

Source: Foiling the truck-hackers (Overdrive Online)

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