DARPA Team Hacks OnStar To Control a Chevy Impala

Feb 10, 2015 11:09 AM EST | Jordan Ecarma


A recent white-hat hack spells trouble for General Motors and the auto industry as a whole.

Dan Kaufman, a researcher who has worked on video games and now heads software innovation at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, hacked into GM's OnStar in-vehicle communications system on a recent segment of "60 Minutes" on CBS.

After Kaufman and his DARPA colleagues found their way into OnStar's emergency system, they flooded it with an overwhelming amount of data and then inserted code to take over the ninth-generation Chevrolet Impala.

While the car was being driven, someone from Kaufman's team used a laptop to manipulate the sedan, putting on the brakes or removing brake functionality so the driver couldn't control the vehicle.

In-vehicle software systems are convenient, but they also mean modern cars can be easily hacked. Last year, two Spanish researchers built a device for $20 that could purportedly hack a car's system to control braking, steering and other functions. Chinese hackers claimed to have taken over a Tesla Model S during a hacking competition in July.

Hacking is a common problem that automakers will have to face as they build increasingly connected cars.

"This isn't about GM or Onstar or the future; hacking into cars of all kinds isn't coming, it's here, and it doesn't take the half-billion-dollar annual budget of a small DARPA division to do it," Autoblog.com noted.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., pointed out on Monday that "there really aren't any clear guidelines on the books" regarding hacked cars.

"No longer do you need a crowbar to break into an automobile," he said on "This Morning" on CBS. "You can do it with an iPad."

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," said a report from Markey's office, according to the Associated Press.

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