A rash of ransomware attacks have left US hospitals and medical centers reeling from the aftereffects of having their networks locked and their patient information hanging in the balance. Part of the reason the facilities have suffered from data breach threats is because–quite frankly–they work. When hospitals are left facing the lawsuits from patients’ families and the hefty fines for the resulting privacy violations, hackers know that the easy money comes from taking over a medical network and holding it hostage until payment is made.
But a frightening new scenario has emerged, one that comes straight out of Hollywood sci-fi thrillers: ransomware that affects your vehicle, specifically while it’s on the road. According to a report by Car and Driver magazine, the potential danger is very real, and quite possibly deadly.
“Both terrorists and hackers pose a serious threat to connected automobiles—and as many as three-quarters of new cars are expected to have internet connectivity on board by 2020, according to John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the U.S. Department of Justice. Carlin said many vehicles, including self-driving cars, may soon be in danger of having their systems compromised. Also recognizing the problem, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has just issued Cybersecurity Best Practices for Modern Vehicles, a guide for the auto industry.”
There have been a few famous test demonstrations of hackers “taking over” a vehicle’s systems while it’s in operation, grabbing control of everything from the windshield wipers to the accelerator. While no such events have happened in everyday “real life” driving conditions, that’s not to say it won’t happen. It’s not hard to envision a phone call–one that you answer on your vehicle’s Bluetooth speaker, of course–that tells you to turn over access to your bank account or your car is about to slam into a bridge support.
That’s only one possible event that the government is scrambling to prevent. Unfortunately, as too many other industries and innovations have proven, we often race to get a new product on the market and then discover the flaws after the fact. In this case, those flaws can prove lethal if we don’t enact preventive measures.