GM, Ford, Toyota Sued Over Defects That Help Hackers

Mar 13, 2015 03:05 PM EDT | Matt Mercuro

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A Dallas-based attorney has filed a class action lawsuit against General Motors, Ford and Toyota for not addressing a defect that allows vehicles to be hacked and take control away from drivers.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to automakers, who have known about the risks posed by this issue for a long time. A segment even aired on 60 Minutes which featured a demonstration on how easy it is to disable the brakes and prevent a driver from slowing down.

"Toyota, Ford and GM have deliberately hidden the dangers associated with car computer systems, misleading consumers," said lead attorney Marc Stanley in a press statement.

Electronic control units (ECUs) found in most new cars are connected through a controller area network (CAN) or CAN bus.  The ECUs interact by sending digital messages with small quantities of data, or CAN packets.  If hackers are able to send a CAN packet to an ECU on the car's CAN bus, then they can take control of all basic functions of the car.

A recent report called "Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk," details how wireless technologies in cars represent "potential threats to both automobile security and to consumer privacy." 

For the report, Sen. Ed Markey asked a number of automobile manufacturers, like Toyota and GM, how they were handling this issue. He found "a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers," according to the study.

"We shouldn't need to wait for a hacker or terrorist to prove exactly how dangerous this is before requiring car makers to fix the defect.  Just as Honda has been forced to recall cars to repair potentially deadly airbags, Toyota, Ford and GM should be required to recall cars with these dangerous electronic systems," said Stanley.

The lawsuit also claims that GM, Ford and Toyota hid or suppressed facts concerning the functionality of vehicles fitted with these systems. The suit charges each company with false advertising, violation of protections statutes and fraud, according to the release.

The case was filed for the Northern District of California in the United States District Court.

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