Recently I was talking with my seventeen year old daughter about her “college car”. Keep in mind she doesn’t have a car yet, but she is working Dad for a new car, and using college to bolster the need for one and continue with the conversation.
Oddly enough, the first concern my daughter had was “I don’t want a car that can be hacked!”
After a good laugh. I had to seriously contemplate this, and apologize to my daughter of course. The answer is yes. In fact, most cars, produced today are full of technology and full of computers of various sorts. Vehicles are being connected continuously to the internet for everything from streaming music, to telemetry, to progress tracking, to any number of different things that might end up being useful in terms of functionality that requires online connectivity.
This comes at a particularly interesting time as the IoT (Internet of Things) expands in our daily lives. Our toasters, our coffee makers, our refrigerators, and any number of households items, along with the usual mobile devices, are becoming the collection of things connected to the internet.
Anything connected to the internet is a potential hacking target. When it comes to vehicles, to be honest, hacking isn’t anything new. Even for non-connected vehicles. Most vehicles have something called an OBD, Onboard Diagnostics. If you have ever taken a look under your dashboard, you may have seen it. It has a connector that connects to a communications bus that connects all of the various and sundry computers that may be part of your vehicle.
The question becomes. What are we plugging into that connector? The answer is. Devices that can track. Devices that end up connecting either to your mobile phone or to the internet directly. This in turn establishes that there is a path for your vehicle to be hacked. It’s not an easy path to hacking, but the path remains.
60 Minutes showed vehicles being hacked with complete take over of the vehicles onboard controls. Is this something to worry about? Of course it is. However, it is not something to panic about.
The bottom line for the IoT is that security is either not present or it was an afterthought. The thought becomes, “who wants to hack a toaster?” Someone built it and then suddenly realized that this wonderfully functional device should be secure. We wouldn’t want someone hacking into our toaster and setting it to 5 to burn the toast, would we?
The good news for major devices, like vehicles, is that it has long been known that they are interesting targets for hacking. Not necessarily for this internet of things style hacking where they end up using the computer in the car to damage elsewhere, but the actual ability to do damage within the car itself has always been on the minds of the individuals who are creating the software, designing the software, designing the cars, so that security is kind of, sort of baked in from the beginning. Again, the problem is with the internet of things approach, security is an afterthought. The problem is we are once again then at the mercy of the ability and the expertise of the individuals doing the baking. The people who are actually designing security and actually implementing in all those devices.
So, what is a user to do? It’s simple with those Internet of Things (IoT). Stay behind a router, changing the default passwords for those devices for which you can or have a default password. But when it comes to other devices, in fact when it comes to all devices, the most important thing you can do is stay up to date. This is nothing new; these are techniques and approaches that all know as “Best Practices”. Keep the software up to date, because the software reflects the current understanding of the threats out there. The software reflects the current fixes to stop problems that are coming across the threshold. When it comes to other devices, your internet of things refrigerator, or your car, or your laptop, or your desktop, keep it up to date.
Stay aware! Keep an eye on what is going on out there for your specific device. Make sure you understand what is and is not a threat. If you hear about something, question it. If you have a vehicle, make sure that it gets regular maintenance. Regular maintenance for vehicles today includes software updates, and that is something that is as important for today’s cars as it is for today’s computers.
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