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Federal Officials Concerned Over Jeep Cherokee Hack

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On: Mon, Jul 27, 2015 at 9:05AM | By: Carl Malek

Federal Officials Concerned Over Jeep Cherokee Hack

A recently discovered glitch that allowed two hackers to remotely hack a Jeep Cherokee has gotten the attention and concern of federal officials due to the potential problems that could arise from cyber breaches in today's internet-connected automobiles.

An associate administrator with the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that news of the surprising breach, which was made by researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller, "had floated around the entire federal government". The administrator, Nathan Beuse, elaborated further, "The Home Land Security folks have sent out broadcasts that state 'Here's an issue that needs to be addressed.' " Valasek and Miller conducted the hack by commandeering the Cherokee through a security flaw in the cellular connection to the UConnect entertainment system. Once control was fully established, Valasek manipulated critical safety functions and transmission operations from his Pittsburgh home while Miller drove the Jeep on a highway just outside of St. Louis, MO.

The scary thing about this particular hack is that the two researchers did not need any prior access to the vehicle to pull if off. This is widely believed to be the first time that this type of hack has been successfully done. This hack is the latest in a series of recall-related woes for FCA, currently under investigation by the NHTSA regarding its handling of several current vehicle recalls, though this particular issue represents relatively new ground for FCA and for the NHTSA.Another NHTSA spokesman said that the agency's cyber security staff are "putting their expertise to work assessing this threat, and the response, and we will take action if we determine it's necessary to protect safety".

This recent announcement also comes on the heels of a prior NHTSA statement—made hours before the hack was reported toWired magazine—when NHTSA administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind said that vulnerabilities to hacking represented a clear threat to the privacy, safety, and the public's budding trust with recently unveiled autonomous and connected vehicle technologies connect vehicles to the internet. For its part, the NHTSA released a separate statement earlier this week that listed the agency's procedures for responding to threats of this nature, while claiming that it will extensively analyze possible real-time infiltration responses.

For all the hype and attention that this recent hack has produced over the past several days, the NHTSA's ability to rein in hackers may be very limited, despite the agency's request of a formal change to the Grow America Act of 2015 which would make the malicious hacking of a vehicle illegal. As of this writing, those provisions are no longer in the bill currently before the Senate, though this could change after consideration of the Jeep hack.

With modern vehicles becoming more and more computerized, it will be interesting to see how automakers and the federal government address this relatively new concern, and how it will affect automobile engineering and electrical component design.


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