EDITORIAL | March 24, 2015

Lawsuit counterproductive for automotive industry

It came to my attention that there is a lawsuit attempting to seek damages against automakers revolving around their cars being hackable (http://www.networkworld.com/article/2895535/microsoft-subnet/ford-gm-and-toyota-are-being-sued-for-dangerous-defects-in-their-hackable-cars.html).

The lawsuit cites Dr. Charlie Miller’s and my work several times, along with several other researchers who have been involved in automotive security research.

I’d like to be the first to say that I think this lawsuit is unfortunate and subverts the spirit of our research. Charlie and I approached our work with the end goals of determining if technologically advanced cars could be controlled with CAN messages and informing the public of our findings. Obviously, we found this to be true and were surprised at how much could be manipulated with network messages. We learned so much about automobiles, their communications, and their associated physical actions.

Our intent was never to insinuate deliberate negligence on the part of the manufacturers. Instead, like most security researchers, we wanted to push the boundaries of what was thought to be possible and have fun doing it. While I do believe there is risk associated with vehicle connectivity, I think that a lawsuit can only be harmful as it has the potential to take funds away from what is really important:  securing the modern vehicle. I think any money automobile manufacturers must spend on legal fees would be more wisely spent on researching and developing automotive intrusion detection/prevention systems.

The automotive industry is not sitting idly by, but constantly working to improve the security of their past, present, and future vehicles. Security isn’t something that changes overnight, especially in the case of automobiles, which take even longer since there are both physical and software elements to be tested. Offensive security researchers will always be ahead of the people trying to formulate defenses, but that does not mean the defenders are not doing anything.

While our goals were public awareness and industry change, we did not want change to stem from the possible exploitation of public fears. Our hope was that by showing what is possible, we could work with the people who make the products we use and love on an everyday basis to improve vehicle security.

– cv