As readers of WhoWhatWhy know, our site has been one of the very fewcontinuing to explore the fiery death two years ago of investigative journalist Michael Hastings, whose car left a straight segment of a Los Angeles street at a high speed, jumped the meridian, hit a tree, and blew up.
Our original report described anomalies of the crash and surrounding events that suggest cutting-edge foul play—that an external hacker could have taken control of Hastings’s car in order to kill him. If this sounds too futuristic, a series of recent technical revelations has proven that “car hacking” is entirely possible. The latest just appeared this week.
Hackers, seeking to demonstrate the vulnerability of automobiles to remote attacks, were able to largely take over the Jeep Cherokee driven by a writer for the tech magazine Wired:
Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country.
They were able to make his car decelerate suddenly, causing the writer to “narrowly avert death” at the hands of a semi-trailer coming up behind him.
In an earlier demonstration, they had been able to do similar things with other vehicles:
In the summer of 2013, I drove a Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius around a South Bend, Indiana, parking lot while they sat in the backseat with their laptops, cackling as they disabled my brakes, honked the horn, jerked the seat belt, and commandeered the steering wheel.
All of this is increasingly drawing the attention—and action— of the authorities. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced legislation Tuesday seeking to establish federal standards for security and privacy of drivers in today’s computer-laden cars.
What we do not hear is any discussion about whether the risk has gone beyond the realm of possibility…to a reality.