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Cars Are Being Hacked Just Like Computers

So why aren’t car companies trying to stop it?

Leo Shvedsky
August 25 2021

A car commercial will never fail to shove slogans and buzzwords into your earholes about how economical, safe, or our personal favorite “invigorated” any brand-new model can make you feel. The one thing commercials, or any marketing material produced by brand, will pretty much never do is talk about cybersecurity. Who can blame them? It’s pretty difficult to make a bunch of technical jargon about wireless encoding and firewalls sound like a great driving experience. But honestly, we should probably start expecting them to do just that. 

The fact is it can be a fairly simple task for a motivated individual with a modicum of coding knowledge to either steal your car, or simply make it shut down – or worse – while you are behind the wheel. Remember that scene from Batman Returns when the Penguin takes control of the Batmobile?

That isn’t too far off from what can happen today. 

Hacking is omni-present in today’s world; you can hardly go a news cycle without some major company’s servers being breached. But car hacking does not get as much attention. Why? Simply because the car companies do not want to talk about it, and the reason for them not wanting to talk about it is because it’s a sticky issue for them. Truth is, they don’t have much to sell you on that front.  

If we want to get technical about it, cars have always been getting hacked. You’ve seen in movies and TV shows when characters would stick a thin piece of metal between the window and door panel of a car to unlatch its locking mechanism, right? Well, that’s a hack. Now a chap with a laptop can do the same thing without the fuss of looking like he is overtly breaking into a car.

As with everything in this fast-moving world of ours, car hackers had to adjust to new methods and tech.  

Modern hacking goes back to 2004, when a man stole several high-end cars in Prague using his laptop.  In 2010 researchers were able to prove that they could hack into a car’s Electrotonic Systems Unit (ESU), aka the car’s brain, wirelessly.  

But where companies like banks and tech giants began their perpetual cyber arms race with the hackers to stay just one step ahead, car manufacturers were not as successful for some reason. There have been many, many hacks since then. Here’s a list of just 25 of them. 

And none of them are front-page news. We don’t get a commercial with cars crying as sad music plays in the background when a car gets hacked. Manufacturers don’t want us to even think about it. The reason for that is plain, too: 80% of consumers won’t buy a car that’s been hacked 

Car companies believe that if they released an official apology every time a major exploit was exposed, we’d all stick to driving classic restorations we bought at a car show. The truth is they just need to improve security, but that might be a cost they’d rather not pay.



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