Forget Uber for a Moment. The Real Danger on the Road (and Elsewhere) May Be Remote Hijacking

Vintage remote control car

Technology only imagined a decade ago is everywhere. It’s in our hands, on our laps, and on our desks. But it can also be found in our buildings and, increasingly, in and on our transportation infrastructure. Think wireless toll booths, wireless HOV lanes and driver-less cars. It has and will continue to change the way we design, build and use our transportation infrastructure.

But there can also be a dark side. Let’s just call it mischief for now.

Buried deep in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle is an article of significance to the transportation industry, and to all who depend upon it. It seems that two respected security researchers have been busily at work on ways to control hundreds of cars remotely. Well, so have a lot of people you say. But what is surprising, and alarming, is that in the process they discovered they could hack existing technology in existing transportation systems – remotely; without the owner’s permission and without the knowledge of the owner or the operator until such time that a remote controlled direction conflicts with the operator’s intent.

They accomplished this audacious feat by simply hacking factory components already installed in mass produced vehicles designed to communicate wirelessly within the vehicles’ internal systems. Yes, that is right. Your existing modern car, bus, train and plane is run by a number of electronic devices that communicate wirelessly internally, often automatically and, of course, often in response to the drivers directions. A wonderful advancement in automotive technology.

But, let’s be clear, our protagonists have proven their ability to take control of your car, your bus and perhaps your train, remotely, without your active intercession. All they need to know are the precise components installed within each system. The article concludes “Their research is likely to be one of the first discoveries in a new chapter of vulnerabilities and attacks directed at the Internet of Things…” (Ibid).

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the vulnerabilities highlighted in the Chronicle article might translate to the construction industry. Of course, it certainly raises question about mobility based upon automated systems generally and driverless cars specifically. But more immediately, think about the potential for mischief if the remote systems of a new billion dollar plus stadium were hijacked electronically just hours before a Super Bowl – the fire sprinklers turned on just for a few minutes; the heat up to 100 degrees, then the lights go out. How secure are these systems? Now that would make a great movie.

We complement the Chronicle for their measured reporting on this very interesting subject and we look forward to your comments.

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