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Lawsuit seeks damages against automakers and their hackable cars

Lucas Mearian | March 11, 2015
A Senate report backs up claims that automakers haven't addressed electronic security.

The lawsuit cites several studies revealing security flaws in vehicle electronics. A 2013 study by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) found researchers could make vehicles "suddenly accelerate, turn, [and] kill the brakes."

DARPA reported that the defect represents a "real threat to the physical well-being of drivers and passengers." Before releasing its study, DARPA shared its finding with car manufacturers so they could address the vulnerabilities, "but they did nothing," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also cites a study released last month by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) that claims automakers have fallen far short in their responsibility to secure their vehicles' electronics.

The 14-page report is based on responses from 16 automakers to questions about  security vulnerabilities and how driver information is collected and protected.

The report states that automakers have adopted technology without addressing the possibility of hacker infiltration into vehicle systems. Most automobile manufacturers were unaware of, or unable to report on, past hacking incidents, the report states.

The first part of the report focuses on how modern technologies give hackers windows of opportunity. It claims that only two automobile manufacturers were able to describe any capabilities to diagnose or meaningfully respond to an infiltration in real-time, "and most say they rely on technologies that cannot be used for this purpose at all.

"Nearly 100% of vehicles on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions," the report states.

Last November, the world's 19 biggest automakers agreed to principles they said will protect driver privacy in an electronic age where in-vehicle computers collect everything from location and speed to what smartphone the driver uses.

A 19-page letter committing to the principles was submitted to the Federal Trade Commission from the industry's two largest trade associations, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) and the Association of Global Automakers (AGA).

The AAM represents Detroit's Big Three automakers -- Ford, GM and Chrysler -- along with Toyota, Volkswagen AG and others. The AGA also represents Toyota, along with Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. among others.

Markey stated that the principles are an important first step, but fall short in a number of key areas by not offering explicit assurances around choice and transparency.


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