Futurism

Your Futuristic Car Could Be as Hackable as an Old iPhone

In Brief


McAfee researchers discovered that the same Infineon chip that rendered the first iPhones hackable is present in various model year Nissans, BMWs, Fords and Infinitis. The problem is being corrected, but it highlights the ongoing issue of hackable cars.

 

Return Of The Chip

The first iPhones to hit the market suffered from a serious flaw: they contained an installed Infineon chip whose baseband was exploitable. This resulted in the phones being hacked and used on networks other than AT&T, which was supposed to be the iPhone’s exclusive network. Now, more than a decade later, the same chip has been discovered in years worth of Nissan Leafs, as well as BMWs, Fords, and Infinitis.

It is disturbing enough that a chip with such a known flaw would be used again in cars, but perhaps more unsettling is the fact that the flaw was discovered purely by accident. “We just randomly picked a car at the wrecking yard and happened to find this and our jaws kinda dropped,” McAfee researcher Jesse Michael told Engadget.
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Image Credit: Infineon
Image Credit: Infineon

As of late July, an advisory notice was issued about the flaw. Intel, which now owns Infineon, and Nissan helped researchers to clarify the issue and develop a fix. BMW, Ford, and Nissan have all delivered system updates to disable and/or repair the affected part. However, the problem of hackable cars remains.

Hackable Cars

In August of 2016, a team of researchers was able to trick Tesla’s Autopilot system into seeing things that weren’t there, and missing things that were. This team wasn’t doing this to be hostile, rather, they hacked into the system as part of an initiative to determine the safety of the technology. They concluded that hacking is, in fact, possible, albeit highly impractical for almost anyone, given its six-figure price tag and difficulty. Contrast this with the Volkswagen hack that came to light that same month: researchers discovered that VW’s RFID systems were hackable with a simple $40 Arduino device, and had been for years.

In any case, although, thus far, all known hackers have been friendly, as driverless vehicles become more common, their hackability is something we need to consider. Autonomous driving is only going to save lives if it functions properly and remains secure.

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