Weekly Brief: Hacking connected cars becomes mainstream media fodder

In this week’s Brief: OnStar, 60 Minutes, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, GM, BMW, US Senator Ed Markey, President Obama, Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Apple, Mercedes-Benz Research & Development, U.K. Department for Transport, Audi, The Telegraph, CES 2015, Volkswagen Group and TomTom.

The game of musical chairs (cyber hacking edition) played on last week as OnStar came under fire for cyber vulnerabilities in an episode of CBS’s 60 Minutes. To demonstrate how susceptible connected cars are to hacking, the show featured researchers at the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) using a laptop to hack into a car and send that car and its driver (reporter Lesley Stahl) careening into some cones despite Stahl’s attempts to stop it.

In the following days, car buffs identified the disguised car that Stahl was driving as a 2009 Chevrolet Impala, and GM was thrust onto the same hacking hot seat that BMW had been on the week before. Whereas BMW responded with an over-the-air update for ConnectedDrive, GM explained that the Impala was running an old version of OnStar and that GM is working with DARPA to better understand potential vulnerabilities and how to design hardware and software to rebuff hackers in the future.

End of story? Fuggetaboutit. The day after 60 Minutes aired, U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts released a report on automotive cyber security that excoriated automakers around the globe for glossing over the threat of cyber security as they embrace increasingly networked cars. Security measures today are “inconsistent and haphazard across all automobile manufacturers,” said the report, called Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk.

At the end of the week, President Obama stepped into the fray at a special White House summit on cyber security and consumer protection held at Stanford University. Obama announced a new government agency called the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center and asked the Senate for $14 billion in next year’s budget to address the increasing threat of hacks on individuals, companies and government agencies. He didn’t mention cars explicitly, but given the heightened media scrutiny around networked vehicles and cyber vulnerabilities, it’s not a stretch to think that they’ll at least be part of the conversation.

In other news, are you ready for the iCar? After months of rumors, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times both ran stories last week citing inside sources confirming that Apple is building an internal team, including Johann Jungwirth, former head of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development, for what’s being called Project Titan. The first prototype reportedly looks like a minivan and will include — surprise surprise — Apple CarPlay in the dash, amongst other features. Whether Apple grows into a legitimate Tesla contender or whether it shelves Project Titan before it ever hits the market remains to be seen.

The U.K. opened its roads to the testing of self-driving cars. The move comes on the heels of similar announcements in Germany and the Netherlands, which collectively position Europe to contend with America for autonomous vehicle incubation. The U.K. Department for Transport says that it’s funding four six-month pilots in Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. The results will help solidify a code of practice for the automotive industry to follow in the coming years.

After months of showing off its first self-driving car, the A7, Audi confirmed to a U.K. newspaper, The Telegraph, that its driverless technology will hit the market in 2017 in a new luxury line called the A8. Granted, the A8’s capabilities won’t be nearly as robust as the A6 that was able to drive itself from San Francisco to Las Vegas for CES 2015, it will reportedly be able to handle steering, accelerating and braking up to speeds of 40 mph.

Finally, the Volkswagen Group selected TomTom to provide traffic services to Volkswagen Group cars across Europe, beginning with Audi and Volkswagen. TomTom’s bases of real-time GPS probes will cover more than 100 million kilometers of roads around the world for Audi and VW drivers. Navigation systems will provide real-time traffic updates and propose reliable alternative routes. Integration to begin immediately.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.



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