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FBI, NHTSA Warn Car Owners Over the Dangers of “Vehicle Hacking”

Car accidents frequently occur due to defects in the design or manufacturing of a vehicle. While such product liability claims are usually associated with physical issues, such as a bad tire or an improperly designed braking system, anyone who has purchased a car within the past few years must also be aware of potential software defects affecting a vehicle’s computer systems. “Vehicle hacking” is not a matter of science fiction; it is a real-world problem that has drawn the attention of law enforcement and federal safety regulators.

Chrysler Vehicles Recalled in 2015 Over Defective Software

On March 17, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a Public Service Announcement regarding vehicle hacking. The agencies noted that many modern cars use embedded computer systems to control basic functions such as steering or braking. Many of these components also incorporate wireless communications technology into vehicle functions, such as allowing a driver to unlock the vehicle remotely or to remotely monitor tire pressure.

The agencies said such wireless functions can enable “an attacker to remotely exploit these vulnerabilities and gain access to the vehicle’s controller network or to data stored on the vehicle.” While such hacking may not immediately endanger the driver or any passengers in the car, the agencies said there was a risk that attackers could pose a safety risk “if the access involves the ability to manipulate critical vehicle control systems.”

For example, last July the NHTSA issued a recall for a number of vehicles manufactured by Chrysler between 2013 and 2015 after discovering a “software vulnerability [that] may result in unauthorized remote modification and control of certain vehicle systems, increasing the risk of a crash.” An NHTSA study revealed that an attacker could use the defective vehicles’ wireless and cellular communications features to shut down the engine, disable the brakes, or disable door locks, among other things. As part of the recall, Chrysler provided updated software to correct these issues.

Indeed, the FBI and NHTSA advises all car owners to make sure their vehicle software is up to date. But the agencies also caution that attackers might exploit the software update process to scam consumers. Specifically, a scam artist could “send socially engineered e-mail messages to vehicle owners who are looking to obtain legitimate software updates,” which instead prompt users to download “malware” that infects the vehicle instead.

Have You Been Injured Due to a Defective Vehicle?

Vehicle hacking may not be a widespread problem but it is still something all car owners need to be aware of. Any potential defect in a car or truck may create an unacceptable safety risk. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident caused in whole or in part by a defective motor vehicle, it is important to seek independent legal advice from an experienced Knoxville product liability lawyer. Cases involving defective vehicles often raise complex scientific and legal questions. A Tennessee personal injury lawyer can provide you with the necessary assistance. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you need to speak with someone today.

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