Could Hackers Take Control of Your Car Away From You?


Ask most Rhode Island drivers why a vehicle would be recalled, and they’ll likely point to mechanical or structural defects hiding in the car’s physical components. Problems with air bags, ignition switches, rear-mounted fuel tanks and similar equipment have all sparked massive recalls of vehicles in recent years. But fewer people will mention the car’s software – or its vulnerability to computer hackers.

Last week, Fiat Chrysler announced that it is recalling 1.4 million vehicles after a team of cybersecurity specialists successfully hacked a Jeep Cherokee and took over several of its most important systems, including the steering, transmission and brakes, according to a Fox News article. According to the automaker, the problem can be addressed with a software update that can be administered via the car’s USB port.

Although the Fiat Chrysler recall is the first recall to address hacking issues, it is not the first time that hacking a vehicle has become a concern. A February report by 60 Minutes revealed that researchers at the University of Washington, with assistance from technicians from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), hacked the OnStar system in a 2009 Chevrolet Impala.

After the test on the Chevrolet Impala, General Motors released a statement reporting that the company had found a security solution. However, it did not mention where, whether or when the solution might be made available to drivers. The company also did not mention what version of the OnStar software had been compromised or whether newer versions might be vulnerable to the same tactics. However, General Motors has released a smartphone app update to address another hacking problem – one that might allow a third party to take control of some functions of the Chevrolet Volt.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has called the hacking problem “a warning” to the auto industry, according to an article in the Detroit News. Both NHTSA and the Department of Transportation have called for a partnership between government regulators and automakers in order to stay one step ahead of potential security breaches.

Losing control of your vehicle to an anonymous person with unknown intentions sounds like a nightmare – because it is one. While there have been no reports yet of injuries caused by hackers who have taken control of vehicles, many other types of electrical defects have resulted in crashes and serious injuries.

Product liability laws allow consumers injured by dangerous products to hold manufacturers and other parties accountable for injuries, illnesses or deaths caused by their products. If you or a loved one has been harmed by a defect in your vehicle’s software or other components, get help from an experienced Rhode Island product liability attorney. Call Marasco & Nesselbush at 401-443-2999 or fill out a contact form to set up a free legal consultation. We have four offices in Providence, Wakefield, Warwick, and Woonsocket to easily serve you.