In what is being called “the first of its kind,” Wired.com reports that hackers, using just a laptop and mobile phone, accessed a Jeep Cherokee’s on-board systems (via its wireless internet connection), took control and crashed the car into a ditch from 10 miles away sitting on their sofa. As The Telegraph details, the breach was revealed by security researchers Charlie Miller, a former staffer at the NSA, and Chris Valasek, who warned that more than 470,000 cars made by Fiat Chrysler could be at risk of being attacked by similar means. Coming just weeks after the FBI claimed a US hacker took control of a passenger jet he was on in the first known such incident of its kind, the incident shows just how vulnerable we are to modern technology.
As The Telegraph reports, the hackers (security experts) worked with Andy Greenberg, a writer with tech website Wired.com, who drove the Jeep Cherokee on public roads in St Louis, Missouri…
In his disturbing account Greenberg described how the air vents started blasting out cold air and the radio came on full blast when the hack began.
The windscreen wipers turned on with wiper fluid, blurring the glass, and a picture of the two hackers appeared on the car’s digital display to signify they had gained access.
Greenberg said that the hackers then slowed the car to a halt just as he was getting on the highway, causing a tailback behind him – though it got worse after that.
He wrote: ‘The most disturbing maneuver came when they cut the Jeep’s brakes, leaving me frantically pumping the pedal as the 2-ton SUV slid uncontrollably into a ditch.
‘The researchers say they’re working on perfecting their steering control – for now they can only hijack the wheel when the Jeep is in reverse.
‘Their hack enables surveillance too: They can track a targeted Jeep’s GPS coordinates, measure its speed, and even drop pins on a map to trace its route.’
The hack was possible thanks to Uconnect, the Internet connected computer feature that has been installed in fleets of Fiat Chrysler cars since late 2013.
It controls the entertainment system, deals with navigation and allows phone calls.
The feature also allows owners to start the car remotely, flash the headlights using an app and unlock doors.
But according to Miller and Valasek, the on-board Internet connection is a ‘super nice vulnerability’ for hackers.
All they have to do is work out the car’s IP address and know how to break into its systems and they can take control.
In a statement to Wired.com Fiat Chrysler said:
“Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose ‘how-to information’ that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorised 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.”