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Cybersecurity: The New Motor Vehicle Safety Concern

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While strides have been made to reduce drunk driving, distracted driving, and other safety concerns, car hacking is a recent phenomenon that it is largely unknown by the public.

Carmakers are increasingly implementing advanced technology in motor vehicles. Some vehicles now double as wi-fi hotspots, and most new model vehicles are Bluetooth enabled. While convenient, such connectivity can lead to the risk of cyber-attack.

Although this idea may seem far-fetched, it is in fact a very real and relevant concern. In an experiment last year, hackers were able to remotely stall a Jeep on the highway with the driver still inside. The driver could do nothing to prevent the hackers from breaking in and shutting down the engine.

The Federal Government recommends cybersecurity in new vehicles

With this very real threat as background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recommended carmakers begin protecting consumer vehicles against cyber-attacks and other forms of unauthorized access. The federal agency recently issued guidelines for improving the cybersecurity of new motor vehicles. U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that the agency's intention with the guidelines is to provide advice to help prevent breaches and security failures that can negatively affect motor vehicle safety. Currently, there are no federal minimum standards for cybersecurity features in new model vehicles.

The NHTSA's guidance emphasizes the need to make cybersecurity a priority for the automobile industry as a whole. It also suggests that corporations should allocate resources to allow communication channels that are direct and seamless in an organization when it comes to motor vehicle safety. NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind noted that there is no one static approach that will provide sufficient protection when it comes to cybersecurity and technology, which is constantly changing. Constant adjustments and improvements will be needed.

The NHTSA created its best practices guidance based on feedback from the public as well as the NIST Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. The guidance also recommends that organizations attempt to adopt all the appropriate best practices for cybersecurity of the industry. The NHTSA plans to accept more feedback from the public about the proposed guidance for 30 days.

The future of cybersecurity

In the future, security breaches could be subject to NHTSA recalls similar to the current process for faulty brakes, air bags, and other vehicle safety features. Those who are injured could potentially receive financial help for faulty cybersecurity features.

This is still an emerging area of vehicle safety technology and the law. However, it appears the future is coming quite quickly. Hopefully, automakers will take hacking and cybersecurity threats seriously.

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