Fictional cyber-attacks have featured in Hollywood plots as far back as 1983. War Games saw a student hack military computers and almost start a Third World War; The Net involved the theft of the protagonist's complete identity using malware; Die Hard 4.0 saw cyber-terrorists hack the FBI, creating a crippling cyber-warfare attack on the US national infrastructure; and more recently a plot in Homeland saw terrorists gain access to the Vice President's pacemaker, accelerating his heartbeat and thereby inducing a heart attack. Whilst these may seem like implausible plots, they are not far from today's reality. In fact, former US Vice President Dick Cheney's doctors disabled his pacemaker's wireless capabilities to thwart possible assassination attempts. Nearly every area of modern life has a digital aspect to it; and our global reliance on technology requires a heightened awareness of the risks associated with it; cybercriminals are exploiting technology for their gain and we all need to wake up to the risks.
As real life catches up with fiction, and in light of the UK government giving the go-ahead for trials of driverless vehicle on public roads, Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and Chairman of Kaspersky Lab, has called on the security and IT industry to join forces to protect our connected vehicles from emerging cyber-threats.
The current mechanisms for real-time tracking, detection, analysis and resolution of cyber-threats for computers and mobile devices will not be enough on their own - it could take just seconds to disable or destroy a connected vehicle, with disastrous consequences. Rather than waiting for the first attack to take place, we have to find and stop these vulnerabilities now before the technology is integrated extensively into our cars.
Several areas of risk have already been identified. For example, by obtaining a vehicle owner's identity credentials, thieves could remotely unlock, and take possession of, a vehicle. By intercepting and tampering with mobile communications and over-the-air software updates, cybercriminals could transmit malicious code or, in a worst case scenario, send new and dangerous instructions to the vehicle's software systems. And as with other areas of online life, something as a simple as poor password protection could also, quite literally, leave the door open to criminals.
Everyone involved in the creation of a connected vehicle needs to work together to ensure these points of weakness are dealt with before connected vehicles make it onto our drives and onto our roads. One thing's for sure - however fast we go, hackers will be just a few steps behind.