Thanks to research in use currently, we know that robot cars are on the way, but concerningly, a group of hackers have managed to control a car via a laptop.
If there’s a film about Earth in the far future, you can almost guarantee that the plot in some way will centre on the idea of hacked technology, where a world enthralled by gadgets is suddenly having to defend against them. It’s a terrible reality, especially when we look at just how much around us is electric and connected – our TVs, phones and just about everything else in our homes too. Now, hackers who want to make our technological vulnerability apparent, have taken it one step further; by hacking cars.
Funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), a research wing of the Pentagon (the US Government institution), two security experts, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek are using their skills to take on motor vehicles. The two cars at their disposal, the 2010 model Ford Escape and the popular energy-saver, the Toyota Prius, had their ECUs hacked. An ECU is part of the computerised network inside modern cars that controls steering, braking and even the car’s horn.
How Miller and Valasek did this is by attaching their laptops to the diagnostics port (used by mechanics for fixing faults) using a cable, then, they they simply wrote some software that allowed them to control the car completely. Sitting in the back of the vehicle, the pair steered the car via a laptop (even using a Nintendo controller to control the car at one point), used the brakes and even made the fuel gauge drop to zero, all of this taking place whilst a driver was in control at the wheel.
Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for Toyota said that this did not constitute “hacking” as “the device must be connected – ie the control system of the car physically altered” and that “the presence of a laptop or other device connected to the OBD [on board diagnostics] II port would be apparent.” However, there’s little to stop more research going into this project, showing that perhaps these functions could be completed wirelessly, meaning that once the car is fitted with a wire, anyone with the software could control the car from anywhere.
Miller and Valasek plan on publishing their findings at security conference Defcon in Las Vegas next month, so we’ll keep you posted with the latest.