Can We Please Stop Pretending Car Hacking Is a Grave Threat?

Are you scared of your car getting hacked? The term “hacking” is so broad—and its use in clickbait headlines so vague—as to be meaningless. When was the last time you heard of someone’s car actually being hacked? You haven’t, except for examples which have virtually no bearing on real life.

Your car is as likely to get hacked as you are to get Ebola. Actually, that isn’t true—thousands of people caught Ebola last year. How many private citizens’ cars were hacked? As many as were eaten by Kraken, which is to say, none.

The good news? The nightmare car hack (see below) hasn’t happened. At least not yet. Connected car technologies that will open the door to hacking aren’t quite as connected as headlines would have us believe.

The bad news? The law of unintended consequences means connected cars will almost certainly give rise to new forms of aggravation.

We’re not there yet, but when they arrive we’re going to miss the old days, when car hacking was known by its original name: car theft.

What Is Hacking, Anyway?

Until the rise of automation, hacking was generally what you did to a tree with an axe. Today, hacking is what the media calls any crime the average person can’t understand. Your credit card info was stolen from a server? It was “hacked.” Sure it was, but it wasn’t magic. A person was behind it. A “hack” requires a weakness, and someone clever enough to exploit it, generally for profit.

By that standard, “hacking” has existed since for thousands of years. The Egyptians had locks, which means they had lock-pickers, which means they had hackers.

What Is Car Hacking?

Car hacking has been going on since the first Model T was stolen without a key. I imagine all it took was a metal rod, but it sure must have seem difficult at the time. Key technology improved, but “hackers” eventually moved on to slim jims, which must seem archaic to anyone born after 1990. Once having slipped it into the door, starting the car was easy—just bring a screwdriver. Then The Club was invented. Then handsaw blade technology caught up. The Club? Hacked! Thieves then moved onto duplicating master keys (because manufacturers and dealers were lazy) until keyless entry was invented. Then thieves cloned those, too, using devices available on Amazon. Then people began wrapping their keys in aluminum foil, then keyless entry improved, and thieves adapted again.

What was once hacking became an obsolete form of theft, and the media moved on. Then, car manufacturers began installing cellular and WiFi connections.

What Is The Nightmare Car Hack?

You wake up in the dead of night, and your car is gone. How? It drove itself away after being wirelessly access by “hackers” (a.k.a. modern car thieves). But wait, there’s a worse scenario: You’re IN the car, driving along, and hackers remotely commandeer the car into a tree, or to a remote location for nefarious purposes.

Remember the car crash that killed investigative reporter Michael Hastings? You know, the guy whose 2010 Rolling Stone article ended General Stanley McChrystal’s career, and who was allegedly about to take down another major political figure? Perfect nightmare car hack, right? Except that it wasn’t.

Just last week, a Russian socialite died in a car accident in Switzerland, and again there were suggestions of foul play, if not outright car “hacking.” She was, after all, connected to enemies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But read past the headlines and you’ll see the same factors that killed Hastings: High speed and alcohol.


. . . . . . . .

Leave a Reply