Car hack attacks: It’s about data theft, not demolition

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Cars flying off cliffs. Panicked drivers unable to stop their vehicles as they speed through red lights. It’s the stuff of movie fantasies, a Hollywood notion of hacking the software of modern automobiles. 

But while cars careening out of control make for good box office, the reality of hackers breaking into cars and automakers’ networks is much more mundane and more of a real threat than anything Hollywood has depicted.

Hacked cars IRL

Earlier this year, for example, a security researcher in Germany managed to get full remote access to more than 25 Tesla electric vehicles around the world. A security flaw in the web dashboard of the EVs left them wide open to attacks. (The researcher warned Tesla, and the software has since been patched.) 

Worse, in 2020, a ransomware attack against Honda forced the automaker to temporarily halt production on some plants in Europe and Japan. It’s more likely that this attack came through Honda’s IT infrastructure rather than its connected cars, but Honda never disclosed which road was taken. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as both are now inextricably connected.

In both cases, the danger wasn’t turning off headlights or disabling the brakes. The real target was getting access to all the data that cars and automakers now collect. 

Automakers put a premium on safety and have spent decades trying to reduce accidents. They’ve also gotten better at physically separating a vehicle’s internet connectivity from the driving of a car. But the likelihood of Hollywood scenarios where consumer vehicles are turned into remote-controlled cars is low and distracts from security risks nearly all consumers with connected cars face: harvesting their data.

Hackers want your data, not your life

From location information, to credit card data in connected apps, to bank account balances, cars are now a rolling repository of critical digital information. With Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri ready to shop…