The CIA Allegedly Considered Connected Cars as 'Potential Mission Areas' for Hacking

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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Automakers are hurriedly trying to implement connected vehicle technology and autonomous solutions to entice consumers, though there remains an underlying phobia among the general public that isn’t without a basis in reality. Cyber security is considered essential to the evolution of self-driving cars and plays an equally important role in the vehicles of today that offer enhanced connectivity.

Since modern automobiles rely so heavily on computers, there’s a plethora of elements that hackers could target. However, these hackers don’t necessarily need to operate outside of the law.

Embedded in a WikiLeaks analysis of documents allegedly acquired from the Central Intelligence Agency is an apparent interest in hacking automobiles. The most terrifying takeaway from those files? The claim that the CIA could theoretically use the systems in modern passenger vehicles to conduct “nearly undetectable assassinations.”

The specific example given was a document citing cars using BlackBerry Ltd.’s QNX automotive software, which is used in more than 60 million vehicles.

CIA meeting notes specifically mention QNX as one of several “potential mission areas” for the agency’s Embedded Devices Branch. That branch is also alleged to have collaborated with United Kingdom’s MI5/BTSS to hack phones using Android and Apple operating systems, as well as Samsung’s Smart TVs. After being attacked with hidden malware, those devices could then be converted into listening devices or even controlled by a third party.

The notes that mention the car-based systems — dated October 23, 2014 — said that Blackberry hadn’t yet been notified of the branch’s work. The documents also do not specify if the CIA ever moved ahead with QNX as a hacking target.

However, we already know that modern vehicles can be hacked. Researches working with Wired gained digital access to a Jeep Cherokee in 2015 and managed control many of the car’s systems, including the throttle, brakes and steering. FCA then recalled 1.4 million cars and trucks, making it the first automotive recall ever prompted by hacking trepidations.

While there are over 10,000 files to sift through, Wikileaks has already alleged that the CIA developed what editor-in-chief Julian Assange considered an “arsenal” of malware to attack and control “all the systems that average people use”.

“Once the material is effectively disarmed, we will publish additional details,” Assange said.

U.S. federal agencies have launched a criminal investigation into the release of the documents.

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  • Eiriksmal Eiriksmal on Mar 09, 2017

    You... You used stock imagery of that terrible Google invention, Angular.js, to depict hacking? Through the powers of the internet, you can even find the pull request that added that particular section. https://github.com/angular/angular.js/pull/1958/files Much better hacker images involve Googling "hacker stock image." My favorites are the ones of masked men with tiny hammers, threatening their own laptops.

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Mar 09, 2017

    I have an upcoming interview with an automaker for an in-vehicle cyber defense position. I may be the one dude who looks at this as a positive!

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?
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