Help, My Car Got Hacked and the Internet of Things

The recent recall of 1.4 million vehicles by Fiat Chrysler has raised many questions and concerns after researchers discovered a security vulnerability that could literally allow hackers to take over a driver’s control.  Has the Internet of Things become a reality, or is this just another FUD campaign to create mass hysteria among consumers?

The answer is:  it’s a little of both.  Truth be told, we are very much living in a futuristic Jetson-like world where nearly everything we own is software-based or communicating with some network in some part of the world, and thus prone to attack.  The Internet of Things is far bigger than we realize.  Even household appliances can somehow be controlled remotely.  Does anyone recall the refrigerator spamming businesses as part of a botnet attack?

Today’s world has changed drastically, and war is now fought with digital weapons in the form of malware, viruses, and exploits.  There is no longer a need to fly planes equipped with missiles and train soldiers in advanced combat when a click of a button can shut down an entire economy.

We hear news stories of potential attacks that could have dire consequences – nuclear power plants exploding, airplanes falling from the sky, medical equipment being shut off and putting the lives of millions at risk.  All these scenarios enabled by malware controlled by hackers or rogue governments half a world away.

It is a doomsday picture to paint, and great fodder for media hype and headline news stories.  But the reality is that these scenarios are all possible.  It is not complete FUD, and something we could very well see happen in the future.

Just as consumers have to accept there are tradeoffs between convenience and privacy, businesses have to accept the tradeoff between security and risk.  In Fiat Chrysler’s case, what will this security vulnerability end up costing them, and not just in the hard costs associated with the recall, but in brand and customer attrition?  We will await the answer.