Demonstration supports theory that journalist Michael Hastings’ car was remotely hijacked
July 25, 2013
Forbes Magazine has produced a short video report demonstrating the various operations computer hackers can manipulate once they’ve assumed control of a vehicle’s critical functions, a fascinating revelation in light of theories claiming Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings may have been assassinated using remote carjacking technology already well within the government’s disposal.
Forbes journalist Andy Greenburg recently met with two hackers who re-wired a 2010 Toyota Prius to be controlled via an Apple MacBook. Once the pair of hackers attached to the correct set of ports, they were able to input commands spoofing the car’s various sensors, making it to perform a wide range of seemingly impossible stunts.
“They sent commands from their laptops that killed power steering, spoofed the GPS and made pathological liars out of speedometers and odometers,” wrote Greenberg. “Finally they directed me out to a country road, where Valasek showed that he could violently jerk the Prius’ steering at any speed, threatening to send us into a cornfield or a head-on collision.”
Previous researchers have already demonstrated that car-hacking can be done remotely via multiple avenues, “including short range wireless networks like Bluetooth, network ports used for car maintenance and even internal CD players,” reported the New York Times in 2011.
One of the digital carjackers, Chris Valasek, 31, is a director of security intelligence at the Seattle computer security services consulting firm IOActive, a company specializing in industrial smart grid technologies and software assurance. The company recently received an $80,000 grant from the Department of Defense’s DARPA program to “root out security vulnerabilities in automobiles,” according to Greenburg.
“Imagine you’re driving down a highway at 80,” Valasek says. “You’re going into the car next to you or into oncoming traffic. That’s going to be bad times.”
The hackers are also able to kill or initiate the car’s brakes and control the car’s horn and headlights, as well as tighten the passengers’ and driver’s seat belts at will.
Despite the relative ease by which the hackers are able to take command of the vehicle, car companies have remained virtually silent regarding their automobiles’ lack of cyber security.
The hackers’ road test not only highlights the serious vulnerabilities built-in to modern cars, it also lends credence to statements made by Former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke.
As we learned last month, Clarke told The Huffington Post that Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings’ car crash was “consistent with a car cyber attack.”
“What has been revealed as a result of some research at universities is that it’s relatively easy to hack your way into the control system of a car, and to do such things as cause acceleration when the driver doesn’t want acceleration, to throw on the brakes when the driver doesn’t want the brakes on, to launch an air bag,” Clarke told The Huffington Post. “You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it’s not that hard.”
“I’m not a conspiracy guy. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life knocking down conspiracy theories,” said Clarke. “But my rule has always been you don’t knock down a conspiracy theory until you can prove it [wrong]. And in the case of Michael Hastings, what evidence is available publicly is consistent with a car cyber attack. And the problem with that is you can’t prove it.”
33-year-old BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings died in a fiery car wreck in Hollywood on June 20 when his Mercedes C250 Coupe allegedly hit a tree at high speed, supposedly causing his engine to fly out 100 feet from the site of the crash.
Friends of Hastings say the circumstances surrounding his death don’t add up as he drove “like a grandma,” making the explanation that he would barrel down the road in the middle of the night at high speed highly suspicious.
According to one of his books, Hastings had been the target of multiple death threats following his coverage of the war in Afghanistan, which ultimately led to the resignation of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.
The deceased writer is said to have been working on his “biggest story yet” about the CIA, according to his close friend Staff Sgt. Joe Biggs.