Can Public Transportation Be Hacked?

hackplaneWith the increase in internet connectivity in cars, planes, and trains, the question has been raised now and then about how “hackable” these systems are now that they are connected to the internet at large.  There have been a couple of stories in the media, including someone that had claimed to have hacked into a commercial airplane through the on-board wi-fi, and a story in Wired where a Jeep was hacked remotely through its internet connectivity features and full control of many of the car’s systems were taken over by the hackers.

Both stories raise concerns over how secure the creators of these onboard systems have made them.  Hackers will get into anything they can, and it just depends on whether the hacker wants to be malicious or not.  With the advent of cyber terror ushered in by ISIS, the concerns have reached a new level.  Could terrorists hijack a plane, for instance, through the internet?

It’s certainly a legitimate concern.  According to an article on CNN,

the [vulnerable] planes include the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus A350 and A380 aircraft, and all have advanced cockpits that are wired into the same Wi-Fi system used by passengers…

The government investigators who wrote the report say it is theoretically possible for someone with just a laptop to:

— Commandeer the aircraft

— Put a virus into flight control computers

— Jeopardize the safety of the flight by taking control of computers

— Take over the warning systems or even navigation systems

Obviously all of this is very worrisome to airline passengers.  It’s a new front in the airline security chain of command, and some people worry that the FAA and airline industry as a whole might not move fast enough before an attack/hack is carried out.

Another concern is that even a website visited by a passenger using the onboard WiFi could load malware into the plane’s systems and compromise security.

The hack of the Jeep is another interesting story where there was a clear hole in the system allowing the hackers to take control of the car.  It was considered a “zero-day” hack, unknown to anyone else except the hackers that worked on the issue.  It’s certainly a wakeup call to auto manufacturers to ensure a greater level of security, and perhaps a separation between the systems that govern the car itself and those systems that are connected to the internet.

Car and plane systems seem rudimentary at best, not needing traditional anti-malware software (and lacking the operating systems to run those programs anyway).  However skilled hackers can still take control.

As mentioned in an earlier article, however, governments are responding to the increased technological capabilities of ISIS by beefing up the cyber-security arms of the government as well as working with teams of hackers such as GhostSecurity.

Do you think that planes should just shield themselves from the internet entirely?  Is onboard WiFi worth the risk of a terrorist taking control of the plane?  The risk to passenger cars seems a bit less risky as the targets are much smaller — the risk seems to be mitigated by the fact that there are SO MANY cars out there.  However that wouldn’t stop a hacker from trying to hijack the car of a well known personality or celebrity or government official.


Self Driving Cars – Wave Of The Future

selfdrivingcarThere has been a lot of skepticism regarding the new developments of self driving cars.  It’s hard to say when and if the public will embrace this technological change.  However it remains to be seen if engineers can actually make it happen in the first place.  News reports often pop up about how the Google version of the self driving car keeps getting into accidents.  Well, that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the populace as far as safety and trusting your life to one of these things.

And another thing…do we actually WANT self driving cars?  Isn’t driving a car kind of…fun?  I myself might like a self driving car on occasion, however sometimes it’s nice to just drive along country roads and listen to music.  It’s a kind of zen that’s not available as much in this technological hustle and bustle age anymore.

In another funny news story that happened recently, for the first time ever one of Google’s self driving cars actually got pulled over by police. The reason?  It was going too slow and traffic was backing up behind it.  However, since there was no driver there was nobody to ticket.

In the end there was no ticket issued, leaving the car’s driving record perfect.

“After 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving (that’s the human equivalent of 90 years of driving experience), we’re proud to say we’ve never been ticketed!” the car project posted.

I suppose that is certainly a milestone.  But what do people actually think about this project in the first place?  The writer of the popular blog “The Oatmeal” rode in one of the self driving cars and described it as being a rather timid drivers that drive very slow and cautiously.  He also said they are very cute, and look like little marshmallows with faces.  Apparently Google did this on purpose in order to disarm other drivers – humans are less likely to get mad at or destroy inanimate objects if they resemble living things.  They are pretty darn cute.

An interesting question that I came across was how to program the cars to make ethical decisions in the event of an unavoidable accident.  Say a cyclist rides in front of the car.  Does the car veer into the guardrail to avoid the cyclist?  Or does it protect the rider at all costs?  Will the car always make the decision to minimize total loss of life?  It’s a tough call and one that I wouldn’t want to have to deal with.

Some people welcome the advent of self-driving cars with open arms, but others are a bit more skeptical.  Still, it would be a slow change, and would definitely not happen overnight.  We do stand to gain a lot, however; cars are dangerous and kill over a million people worldwide per year.  That’s a very high number.

Another version of the self driving car is the Tesla autopilot, which I find surprising in its legality but is reportedly rather decent at navigating the roads (as long as there are road markings).

What do you think about the future of self driving cars?  Would you trust one yet?  Are you looking forward to seeing them on the roads near you?