Modern technology gives us many things.

Should you be worried about your car getting hacked


It’s one thing to have your computer hacked when you’re sitting behind your desk but imagine someone comprising the computer in your car when you’re doing 100km/h on the highway.

That’s exactly what happened to Wired journalist Andy Greenberg when he was driving a Jeep Cherokee on a freeway on the outskirts of St Louis.

The air conditioner started blasting cold air, his radio station was changed and blaring at full volume and his windscreen wipers were turned on before the brakes were applied and he was left stranded in a ditch.

But the thing is – he knew it was going to happen.

He planned it.

It was a stunt.

Greenberg organised “white-hat” hackers (that’s the good kind who find weaknesses in company systems) Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek to see if they could hack his vehicle while he was driving it.

Andy Greenberg's hacked Jeep is left in a ditch. Picture: Wired
Andy Greenberg’s hacked Jeep is left in a ditch. Picture: Wired

They did and it sent a scare around the world.

But should we be alarmed?

For Australian Jeep Cherokee owners there is nothing to worry about. The exploit – the onboard UConnect entertainment system – is not available here in Australia.

For US owners – Jeep (owned by Fiat Chrysler) issued a security update that had to be downloaded and loaded onto a USB flash drive before it could be uploaded to the car.

But in this age where car companies are including more tech and automation to a vehicle, should we go back to the days of the horse and cart to be on the safe side?

Not really.

The Wired stunt has shown that hacking a car is possible but highly improbable.

The hackers in this case knew the car they were targeting and were prepared for the attack.

In reality, the chances of a hacker taking over control of your car while you’re driving is virtually nil.

Car companies have responded to the hack with varying levels of concern.

The "white-hat" hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek who took over Andy Greenberg's Jeep
The “white-hat” hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek who took over Andy Greenberg’s Jeep. Picture: Wired

Audi and Mercedes Benz have dismissed the threat.

Mercedes Benz flat out said it could never happen to any of their vehicles. Audi says it already uses hackers to try and get into their systems to test their strength.

These German car companies claim their security developments are a level beyond those of the Jeep Cherokee.

But for the rest of us who can’t afford to drive expensive German cars what sort of peace of mind do we have?

While the danger of a car being hacked is serious – you certainly shouldn’t be losing sleep over it.

One thing a hacker needs to get into your car’s computer is the IP address – this is the Internet Protocol address – a label that allows your computer to communicate with others.

But with a car – because it’s not always in the same place – is assigned a different IP address each time you drive it so the chances a hacker can gain that sort of information is harder than someone trying to guess the PIN of your credit card.

What the Wired story has done is shine a light on the need for cars to have the same level of security as our computers and other connected devices.

But a car being hijacked remotely and then controlled by a hacker is not impossible but highly improbable.

Anything that’s connected to the internet is vulnerable to hackers – unless steps are taken to protect yourself.

In the case of cars, they’ve just joined the lists of connected devices that need protecting.