By on August 20, 2012

Security experts told Reuters that car computers “are vulnerable to hacks by attackers looking to steal cars, eavesdrop on conversations, or even harm passengers by causing vehicles to crash” and that automakers have failed to protect these systems.

“You can definitely kill people,” said John Bumgarner, chief technology officer of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit told the wire service.

Two years ago, a group of U.S. computer scientists made waves by showing how viruses could damage cars when they were moving at high speeds. Last year, the same group issued a report that showed how computer worms and Trojans could be delivered to automobiles: Via onboard diagnostics systems, wireless connections and even tainted CDs.

Bruce Snell, a McAfee executive, said automakers are fairly concerned about the potential cyber attacks because of the frightening repercussions:

“If your laptop crashes you’ll have a bad day, but if your car crashes that could be life threatening. I don’t think people need to panic now. But the future is really scary.”

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33 Comments on “Computer Crashes, Car Crashes, People Die...”

  • avatar

    It’s a trap to assimilate us.

    The US-CCU was started by

    Scott “Borg”

    Bad joke. I’ll leave now.

  • avatar

    There is a lot to be said for simplicity in life.

  • avatar

    “Two years ago, a group of U.S. computer scientists made waves by showing how viruses could damage cars when they were moving at high speeds. ”

    triggering false tire pressure warnings is not what I call “damaging” cars.

    ” Last year, the same group issued a report that showed how computer worms and Trojans could be delivered to automobiles: Via onboard diagnostics systems, wireless connections and even tainted CDs.”

    if this is the same report I’m thinking of, the group had physical access to the test car and were able to *physically connect to the CAN bus.* Having physical access to the car is a far cry from doing something remotely.

  • avatar

    I’d be more worried about cars that over rely on computers just to do basic things like “move forward” and “slow down to a stop”. I once had a computer malfunction on a regular 4-door sedan and I was still able to drive it to the dealership without the computer problem interfering with basic operations such as brakes, acceleration, steering, etc.

    My neighbor has a BMW 745. Actually – he’s on his 4th BMW 745. He had a malfunction in a seat sensor and THE CAR REFUSED TO START because it believed there was no one in the seat and therefore applies the electronic parking brake. One of my coworkers had an Audi A7 (got rid of it) Brand new and because of a fuel sensor malfunctioning, the car wouldn’t turn on when the gas went below aquarter tank. I like technology, but I in no way want it to interfere with me being able to use the car in an emergency.

    • 0 avatar

      As much as I like German sports sedans, I cant see myself ever buying one because of things like this. Why are these pieces of technology even necessary? Is the cost of putting in a sensor that makes sure someone’s in the drivers seat before the parking brake can come off worth anything in the final cost of the car?

      • 0 avatar

        I think it’s all with good intentions… Remember the guy whose car rolled into water after he jumped out to save his kid who was running to the ledge? This would have prevented that.

        But I agree with you, these gremlins in many luxury German cars (among others) is concerning. I remember stories of BMW’s with moonroofs that stayed open and required an ECU upgrade.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    One can always fly via Airbus – where the pilot is nothing but a voting member.

    • 0 avatar

      The (in)famous Google self-driving cars have a driver that is “a voting member”. I wonder what kind of a crash you can have with a Google-mobile that is connected to the internet all the time with viruses delivered wirelessly? Who pays for the damage? And how much will it cost?

    • 0 avatar

      Wait until they bring out their new single pilot-with-dog cockpit! The pilot is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches the controls.

  • avatar

    This won’t change the fact that overall letting computers drive for us will result in fewer crash related deaths than putting a human in control. Control, even the illusion of it, is a very compelling proposition to our reptilian brain. Ultimately though the cold hard reality of numbers will win and the only place people will be driving is on designated courses. Much like how the anachronistic people of today keep and run horses.

    • 0 avatar

      If you really think insurance companies and law enforcement will EVER allow automated cars to take over, you are mistaken.

      Computer controlled cars won’t speed. They won’t make moving violations. That means no tickets and no revenue.

      In fact, the insurance companies couldn’t justify high costs of insurance if cars drove themselves.

      Automated cars and flying cars will continue to exist in the realm of sci-fi… the same future where everyone has Electric vehicles.

      They can’t even get GPS Nav units to give 100% reliable directions. And a computer is supposed to rely on that? A computer would actually make a left turn onto a railroad track when it thought it was turning onto the street adjacent.

      • 0 avatar

        Or the correct street but road construction, bridge out, only 1 lane open, big pot hole, power line and branches down.

      • 0 avatar

        I am old school when it comes to cars, I like manuals. I don’t like a lot of electronic nannies.

        However, self-driving cars will absolutely become a reality. The infrastructure to make them happen on a large scale hasn’t been designed yet, so pointing out the flaws of our current tech is irrelevant.

        First we will have self-driving car lanes. So you control the car for the most part, but to access the special highway lane you give over control. Over time those lanes will expand until the human controlled cars are pushed out entirely. We are talking a considerable amount of time for this to progress, so I am not saying that it will happen over night, but I do believe it will happen.

      • 0 avatar

        I prefer automatic trannies because to tell the truth, I really don’t want to have to do extra work with my foot or my right hand.

        I can drive manual, but I don’t like to anymore. My uncle taught me on a 1988 Mustang GT and a Ford Capri.

        I love arguing against flying cars, automated cars and electric cars, but even i’ll concede that there are just 2 things that are needed to make them both a reality.


        Until Cold fusion happens, we will never have enough power or efficient energy delivery to make EV’s affordable for the average joe, reliable or efficient. Not just “energy efficient” but “Time efficient”. It takes hours to charge an EV but minutes to fill a regular car.

        Until AI, the sensors in cars will not be reliable enough to simply drive by running programs. You can’t even get a Lego robot with ultrasound to reliably direct itself around a room.
        It will take a machine that can think like a human to reliably drive a car by itself. It will also need to wirelessly communicate with other cars and the street grid so it knows just about everything it needs to know about road conditions, speed limits, etc.

        The best example is the movie EAGLE EYE.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s already not true, bigtruck. The self driving car technology have been advancing by leaps and bounds. AIs are already successfully navigating our streets today. I think the biggest problem will be scaling up. When we reach the point that we have a ton of AIs on the road the weakest link will be the human, so you will have to separate the self-driving cars from the human controlled ones in certain environments.

      • 0 avatar

        The technology is getting closer every day. Adaptive cruise control, lane departure guidance, automatic braking, ESC, rain-sensing wipers, etc. are all examples of mainstream computer-controlled technologies that have already been accepted. Once the technology matures (which it undeniably will), it will eventually become an undeniable reality that cars can drive longer and safer than any human could. This will has strong impacts on certain industries but I forsee that automated cars will eventually become a requirement, not a luxury.

      • 0 avatar

        I love arguing with guys like BigTruck who seem to think flying cars won’t be possible until they are possible for the masses. While the tech for the masses will make the flying car possible, the masses won’t likely care for them. Enthusiasts and those who can find value in them will buy them when they are available. Then they will get better and possibly cheaper.

      • 0 avatar

        Flying cars were promised 30 years BEFORE I was born. There will NEVER be a flying car. More likely, people will continue to make “Drivable Aircraft”.

        Don’t confuse Artifical Intelligence with what we’ve got now. There is no existing AI that can pass a Turing test. What we’ve got now are just robots running programs and canned responses.

        We won’t have Artificial Intelligence until a machine is possible of senses like frustration, anger, or love and there can be an evolution of those senses.

        Of course…if someone wants to prove me wrong, they can invent a real AI and that AI can in turn make a perfect robot (Autot) and that Autot can build a fusion reactor so we can have enough power for electric vehicles. It can also design flying cars :)

      • 0 avatar

        Autonomous cars aren’t even close to reality. Think of the computations to perform something as simple as recognizing a pedestrian trying to cross at a cross-walk.

        For one thing, how do you recognize the crosswalk? What if the paint is a faded in places like many crosswalks. Not only does the car have to recognize a pattern as a crosswalk, it may have to infer the fact that it’s a crosswalk. This happens every millimeter the car travels while it is in motion. Always looking for potential crosswalks along with a billion other things.

        Next the person is standing still – maybe they’ve stepped off of the curb, maybe they’re still standing on the curb. are they crossing or just waiting for a bus? Is it really a person or it something else like a traffic cone or maybe a cyclist that’s stopped for a moment to rest. Maybe a stray dog or even an object placed by pranksters to fool autonomous drivers.

        Another aspect to consider. Some of us in the field are looking at applying the early stages of the technology we’re developing for autonomous vehicle systems to the automation industry to pay the bills. Automation is much easier to do. Nice controlled assembly line environment or maybe even a fast food restaurant vs. relatively chaotic public roads. So, by the time we develop robot driven vehicles, chances are your job will have been eliminated. You won’t be able to afford a vehicle, and will have no place to go anyway.

      • 0 avatar


        Excellent logic.

        When the intelligence in machines is available to reliably drive a car safely, those same machines will have conquered all our jobs.

        It’s funny, the movie iRobot, never mentioned what unemployment was amongst humans considering robots were everywhere.

      • 0 avatar

        Bigtrucks, I am no fan of the never happen club, and think its foolish to apply such poor reasoning to technology. I also don’t find the distinction between drivable or roadable aircraft and flying cars to be applicable here. Don’t know how old you are, but there was a flying car likely before you were born by most peoples understanding. It wasn’t commercially successful, but it was certified as an aircraft and road legal and IIRC, a bunch were made.

  • avatar

    Another reason to like my ’95 Mustang Cobra. Aside from the CD player, digital clock, and ‘computer’ module (so old the code is probably Q-Basic), the car is nearly as analog as it gets. Staying off the grid feels good sometimes.

  • avatar

    Emergency breaks on these cars do need to be manual and capable of stopping the car. Can’t imagine why some are now electronic.

    A non networked override steering wiould also seem a good idea.

  • avatar

    The tech to drive cars via code may also be in the road itself. The president of chip IP designer ARM Holdings recently said that a partner was working on embedded processors which will actually be in the concrete. These chips are real cheap and efficient, too.

  • avatar

    What will happen is embedded chips in the road. It will only happen on the interstates. A dedicated lane for self directed autos that will be allowed to travel at max speed (150+ mph?) with programmed arrival and departure zones. For long distances it would beat air travel.

  • avatar

    Cars are becoming overly complicated machines. while safer in many ways, they are also more likely to strand you when something goes wrong. Depending on where you live and travel this could be very life threatening.

    they break down less, but backyard emergency fix is also no longer possible and this I feel is quite a problem.

  • avatar

    I had a friend that swore he would never have a car with electronic ignition, because “you can’t fix it on Sunday afternoon with a screwdriver and feeler gauge”. When he died, he owned three cars with electronic ignition, as well as a couple with points ignition. I would be careful with what I swore that I would never own.

  • avatar


    There are high chances of your life being saved by a modern car chock full of electronic controllers vs vanishingly small chances of said car being hacked into and killing you.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about ya’ll, but for the last 16 years I’ve used a PC in my job and if that is any indication of what computers driving cars can do, I will be sooooooo dead and gone that neither I nor my great, great grandkids will see it.

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