Imagine you’re driving down the highway. Maybe you’re on the way to Durbs from Jozi, looking forward to a holiday by the beach. The kids are with you, keeping quiet because they’re mesmerised by the entertainment screen attached to the back of your seat.
Your cellphone, connect to a dock so you can use it as a GPS, rings. It’s an unfamiliar number, so you ignore it. After all, it’s probably an annoying telemarketer.
Then suddenly on your infotainment screen, a message pops up. ANSWER THE PHONE NOW, it reads. Freaked out, you slide the pick-up function.
A voice on the other side of the call says, “We have control of your vehicle.” To drive the point across, your car starts accelerating despite your foot off the gas. Then, your car brakes. Then the steering wheel turns.
In a cold sweat, you ask, “What do you want?”
“Listen carefully. You will now use your phone to make a payment of $10 000 to this account…”
Sounds like the plot of a taunt, Hollywood thriller, perhaps starring hunk Chris Evans. But it’s a very real possibility. And it’s becoming more real every single day. Cars are getting more interconnected to the Internet, as the Internet of Everything starts to manifest in our lives
Cars have already been hacked. In 2013, two hackers were given a $80 000 grant to test security vulnerabilities in vehicles.
They discovered you could remotely hack a car, and do mundane things like switch on and off the lights. They also discovered it’s possible to cut the engine – imagine that happening as you hurtle down the highway at 120 kilometres an hour.
University students studying cybersecurity then hacked (again, for benign reasons) a truck. Mainly, they found you could force trucks into uncontrolled acceleration. So now we have five-tonners in the potential hands of highly-skilled criminals.
Oopsie, car manufactuers, didn’t think that one through when you were developing car computer software.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is, there are ways to prevent this from happening.
- When you buy a new car, check with the automobile company what security software the car has, and how it prevents hacking. Only be satisfied if you’ve run it past a friend with intricate knowledge of computers, and they’ve okayed it.
- Be very careful what apps you download onto your phone. Many cars communicate with their owners’ smartphones, for convenience such as locking and unlocking car doors. Any dodgy app on your phone can compromise your vehicle’s security if your phone’s security is compromised. And be aware that even if all your phone does is stream music to your car over Bluetooth, that’s enough to infect it with a virus. The don’t-download rule is especially important if you use an Android device, as these phones are easier to infect than iOS phones.
- Be careful who you take your car to for maintenance and repairs. That greasy mechanic in the West Rand might be a lot cheaper than going to an official authorised car dealership. But he might have the morals of a pit viper practicing divorce law. Considering he’ll have unfettered access to your car’s computer systems, it could be worse than him “finding” problems and taking you for a ride.
- You also need to be careful of after-market devices for your car, especially third-party. They don’t necessarily have very rigid rules and regulations that go into their creation. They might create a vulnerability in your car’s system… or even worse, be a “trojan horse” containing all kinds of nasties.
We don’t mean to scare you – but it’s better to be hypervigilant about these things. And if you feel having the latest tech in your vehicle isn’t worth the risk, you can always sell it to us. We’ll give you more than a fair offer for it. But just keep in mind, a lot of older cars are vulnerable to hacking too. And may in fact be hacked in the future.
However, if it really does bother you, you can buy yourself clingy pants and get a bicycle.