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The Jeep Cyber Attack: Can We Control Our Connected World?

Posted By David Brousell, July 28, 2015 at 10:17 AM, in Category: Cybersecurity

Jeep-1.jpegThe warnings about the perils of our increasingly connected world keep coming.

This past weekend Fiat Chrysler issued a recall of 1.4 million vehicles after it was revealed that two researchers hacked and took control of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Burrowing into the Jeep’s entertainment system through a wireless cellular connection, the researchers were able to take control of the Jeep’s steering and braking systems.

The Jeep hacking follows a long line of cyberattacks and hacking incidents affecting businesses and government agencies. In just the last few months, hackers breached the records of 21.4 million people in files at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in what officials termed the largest attack ever against the U.S. government. Personal data such as addresses, health, and financial information were compromised in the attack.

Last month, Poland’s national airline, LOT, had to cancel dozens of flights due to an attack on its computer systems. JPMorgan Chase last summer revealed that its systems had been hacked, exposing 83 million customer accounts. The Chase incident followed the high profile attack on Target, in which 100 million customer records were affected. And then there was Sony. 

The Fiat Chrysler incident, though, reveals a new and deeply disturbing dimension to the growing cybersecurity problem we now face not just as businesses or government agencies, but as a society.  Up until now, most attacks have been designed to obtain information or disrupt something. The fact that the two ‘White Hat’ security researchers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, could actually take physical control of the Jeep away from its driver should send shivers down our spines. [For a video of the hack, click here: http://www.wired.com/

Imagining the consequences of such power could quickly take us into the realm of what some might think is science fiction, but which we now know is science fact. Consider these scenarios:  A terrorist group seizes control of cars and trucks during the morning rush hour in a metropolitan area, causing chaos and potentially mass casualties. A rogue nation commandeers airliners in retaliation for a trade embargo. Or an extreme political group takes control of embedded medical devices in thousands of people in order to advance their agenda. The negative possibilities are nearly endless.

But the potential advantages of pervasive connectivity are nearly endless, too. The ability to remotely diagnose the state and operation of vehicles, products, equipment, and devices of all shapes and sizes holds the promise of better, more cost effective operation and useful life. Greater automation of routine tasks opens the possibility of higher value added work and rewards. And the generation of more and more information through increased connectivity enables us to envision a world of greater knowledge and sharing, potentially elevating the human condition over time.

Like any tool or technological advance in any period of human history, modern information technology and communications can be used for good or for evil. What the record shows us is that most are used for both. It all depends upon balance, and a system of laws and ethics underpinned by the right moral code.

So what’s the right balance in our high tech, hyper-connected world? Frankly, I don’t see any let up in the interconnection and IP-enablement of more and more physical objects. Why? Simply put, Grove’s Law -- which holds that if something can be done, it will be done – is irresistible. Car makers will continue to develop smarter and smarter vehicles with increasingly large amounts of software content. Consumer goods companies will do the same with smart products used in the home and everyday life. And service organizations will continually take steps to improve the online customer experience. Every business, government agency and organization will look to technology for a competitive edge, an opportunity to cut costs, or a way to achieve a higher level of efficiency. It’s only natural.

What we need to do now is have a national conversation, and then a wider, global conversation, about what, if any, parameters we should put on the connectivity movement and what system of laws and practices are necessary to effectively govern it. Without such a conversation, we could careen off the information superhighway and risk a backlash to progress. 

With it, we have the chance to not only ensure that we continue to control our own vehicles, but perhaps our destiny as well.


Category: Cybersecurity
Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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