Gadgets

Could ‘Car Hacking’ Be The Next Cyber Crime Craze?

Do you own a computer?

It's good, isn't it? Those buttons, that screen - all those documents and spreadsheets. And the internet! Bloody hell.

You've probably got one of those smartphones as well right? And a tablet? And a games console?

Then you'll have a thorough working knowledge of the crushing frustration that cripples each and every one of these devices when it decides to stop working, inexplicably lose its connection - or worse, offers up its secrets to someone who isn't you.

Now imagine the magnitude of your anger if that same potential pitfall rendered your car obsolete. 

A seemingly simple task according to recent tests by two two hackers who demonstrated to Wired just how readily the connected car software of a Jeep Cherokee could be infiltrated and exploited via a remote internet connection.

You can watch the full demonstration below - but the short highlights include controlling the car's steering, shutting off its brakes, cutting the engine and complete control over all internal entertainment, sat nav, climate control and anything else plugged into the Jeep's central computer.

Such was the impact of the demonstration that two US senators have tabled a new law - the provocatively-titled "SPY Car Act" - to ensure that the protection of vehicles and drivers' data is a priority for the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Trade Commission who will need to set new regulations.

Any car maker hoping to sell a 'connected' car must then comply with these standards in order to trade in the US, while a "cyber dashboard" would give consumers an insight into which manufacturers are going above and beyond the minimum security standards.

Don't mistake this as a luddite battle cry - connected cars are the future. It's thought that 10 percent of the world's vehicles currently have an internet connection, with just about every major motoring group investing heavily in connected technology - from simple smartphone connectivity to more advanced features including remote engine control.

Mobile groups and car manufacturers are scrambling to form sponsored_longforms: General Motors, Audi and Tesla are working with AT&T; Ford has partnered with Microsoft; while Mercedes employs an Android system.

A Range Rover model that's been targeted by thieves for its keyless entry exploit

But as the Jeep-hacking demonstration proves, not enough is being done to ensure that the connected systems currently rolling around the roads are genuinely safe enough for active real world use.

Stats released at the beginning of 2015 showed a huge increase in the number of luxury vehicles - models expensive enough to warrant the top-of-the-range connected systems - being stolen as car thieves exploited weaknesses in their keyless software.

When a smartphone or a computer breaks, it's a problem that can range from a peevish annoyance to preventing you from carrying out your profession. If someone hacks your email or your social network, it's an annoyance where the solution may involve frustrated phone calls and cancelled bank transactions. But if someone hacks your car it could put lives at risk.

Connect car technology needs to be more than a gimmick, a gadget or money-grabbing extra to bolt onto your dash. It needs to be safe, perfect and useful. Until then, best stick to the unconnected, unhackable gears and pedals that have been serving us well for the last century.

FOLLOW DAVID CORNISH ON TWITTER: @D_CORNISH