Automakers Don't Know How to Counter Cyber Attacks Against Cars

Feb 10, 2015 07:30 AM EST | Matt Mercuro

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Senator Edward Markey didn't make any friends in the automotive industry this week after saying most companies don't understand the implications of moving into a "new computer-based era" of the automobile.

The Massachusetts Democrat said, while appearing on CBS This Morning" on Monday, that motorists should be asking questions since "there really aren't any clear guidelines on the books" when it comes to preventing hackers.

Lately automakers have spent a lot of time trying to get as many wireless features in their cars as possible. Sen. Edward Markey feels most have not done a good job protecting those features from the possibility that hackers could take control of a vehicle and steal sensitive data.

Markey has a lot of questions about modern technology being added to cars, especially any safeguards against hackers that may or may not have been added to the most recent vehicles. He has also asked what protections are being provided to make sure information that computers gather and transmit wirelessly aren't being used in an invasive manner.

"No longer do you need a crowbar to break into an automobile," he said during the interview. "You can do it with an iPad."

Markey became so concerned with automotive safety after researchers showed how easy it is for hackers to get into the controls of some of the most popular models available and cause them to turn, accelerate, turn the headlights on or off and modify the speedometer.

The responses from 16 different automakers show that "there is a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers who may be able to take control of a vehicle or against those who may wish to collect and use personal driver information," a report by Markey's staff says, according to the Associated Press.

Cars today normally contain 50 electronic control units that are part of a network in the vehicle. Most new cars available include at least some form of wireless entry points to these computers, like Bluetooth, tire pressure monitoring systems and keyless entry, to name a few.

Just three car companies say they still have some vehicles without wireless entry, though these vehicles ae a small share of their fleets.

"Americans are basically driving around in computers," Markey said during the interview.

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