Cybersecurity

FBI, NHTSA issue warning on vehicle hacks

Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia

In a joint March 17 alert bulletin, the FBI and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned the general public and manufacturers of vehicles and vehicle components to be wary of the potential cybersecurity threats from connected-vehicle technologies that are increasingly common.

The official warning comes after a Wired magazine report last July on researchers who were able to remotely hack into a Jeep's steering, transmission and brake systems. That report set off alarm bells in Congress, with car makers and among federal law enforcement and security agencies.

The FBI/NHTSA warning also cited an August paper published by computer security services company IOActive, in which researchers targeted active cellular wireless and user-enabled Wi-Fi hotspot communication functions in an off-the-showroom-floor new car. The researchers showed they could access the vehicle's controller network and data stored on the car's systems.

The new warning cites the Wired example and said the vehicle manufacturer's recall of the model involved in it solved that particular problem. However, the agencies said the danger of unauthorized access not only persists, but is growing as motor vehicles incorporate an increasing number of electronic control units.

These ECUs, which are essentially on-board computers, control vehicle functions that range from steering, braking and acceleration, to the vehicle's lights and windshield wipers. Vehicle components' increasing use of wireless capabilities -- for keyless entry, ignition control, tire pressure monitoring, diagnostics, navigation and entertainment -- present another entry vector, the warning noted.

Unauthorized access of standard systems -- or of after-market add-on systems -- might have many purposes, the agencies warned. And "while not all hacking incidents may result in a risk to safety -- such as an attacker taking control of a vehicle -- it is important that consumers take appropriate steps to minimize risk."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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