Can your car be hacked?

(2010)

Here’s something you probably never thought you’d have to worry about, (courtesy the Norton Cybercrime News which pops up on the screen here monthly and magically and a tad creepily even). Can Your Car Be Hacked? it asks, in a big bold font. Oh yeah baby:

Vehicle disablement — After a disgruntled former employee took over a Web-based vehicle-immobilization system at an Austin, Texas, car sales center, more than 100 drivers found their vehicles had been disabled or their horns were honking out of control.

Tire pressure system hacking — Researchers from the University of South Carolina and Rutgers University were able to hack into tire pressure monitoring systems. Using readily available equipment and free software, the researchers triggered warning lights and remotely tracked a vehicle through its unique monitoring system.

Disabling brakes — Researchers at the University of Washington and University of San Diego created a program that would hack into onboard computers to disable brakes and stop the engine. The researchers connected to onboard computers through ports for the cars’ diagnostic system.

Wow. More fear, icy fingered, merciless, terrifying, annoying. It just keeps piling on. Must be the recession. There are fears everywhere, some big, some little, some a disgruntled employee making my horn blare in the middle of the night or a tire pressure monitor going nuts or my brakes failing on Baxter St., plummeting me down onto the Glendale Freeway at the speed of light.

Ya know, I get the OnStar Diagnostic Report which pops up monthly and magically and a tad Star Treky which tells me what condition my car is in, including the aforesaid brakes and tire pressure (and maybe even the horn, hell I don’t know.)  I can also press a button on my rear view mirror in the middle of nowhere a thousand miles from home and some dude in OnStar World Headquarters can tell me why this or that light came on and if I am doomed or merely inconvenienced or even not to worry at all. That’s very Star Trek too. OnStar also lets me call people and yell at them over traffic noise, it helps get the schedules of two-car ferries that cross the Mississippi from the middle of nowhere Illinois to the middle of even more nowhere Missouri, and there’s a button to press when you are dying and a guy will tell you not to die.  It’s pretty cool. Cars are full of Star Trekness anymore. Or maybe Forbidden Planet, and the dudes at OnStar are the Krel, knowing and doing all for $18.95 a month, except without the Walter Pigeon voice (or Ann Francis legs.). But it never occurred to me that they could take control of my car. The whole monster of the id thing, but it’s Manny, Moe and Jack’s id. Who knows what their evil plan is. I don’t want an air freshener in my car. Especially the pina colada one. I found one hanging from my rear view after a car wash. I get in and there it is dangling, reeking to high heaven of the worst pina colada ever. There are probably bars in Ensenada that smell just like that. I did the Repo Man thing and chucked it out the window before peeling out of there. But it was too late. That cheap tropical smell took weeks to fade away. It was a piece of shit car though. I used to fill the trunk with a beaten up drum kit and play loud abrasive music in the unseemliest dives ever. Those were the days. I smell pina colada and I think of my youth. Back then no one hacked into your car except to swipe the battery. No one was stealing AM radios anymore.

And here I am, decades later, and it’s Good Friday morning and I’m wondering if some evil twerp will make my horn blare between noon and three. Or sunder my brakes on a steep street. Or just mess with my car somehow.  And I’m telling myself not to worry about it. It’ll never happen. Bad things never do to good people. Which is a lie of course and doesn’t help me at all. This didn’t happen in my parents’ 1967 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, I tell you. We controlled our own destiny then. We were masters of our own flat tire.

4/2/2010

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