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You asked: 'What's Next?'

©07 The Media Desk

      The Desk was asked the terrible question "What's Next?" in relation to the Information Security Field.
      Just the raising of this question in a technical environment has provoked spontaneous outbreaks of sudden onset werewolfism or an incapacitating bout of the fantods in those responsible for securing networks and applications.
      And for that reason the Desk turned its gaze from the tech center to the next likely target...
           The Parking Lot.


      The vast majority of new vehicles have some sort of on board communications built in. And a lot of those use cellular technology, satellite phones, or other broadcast technology or something like 'bluetooth' to communicate with everybody from the manufacturer to your laptop or a toll both on down.
      There are on board computers connected to these communications systems which run vehicle diagnostics, compute fuel mileage, contact emergency services, even email the service center when the car needs a tune up. Some of this is done without the owner or driver even knowing it happened, as when the manufacturer pushes out a software update and the system downloads and installs it automatically.
      You can probably see where this is going.

      If there are viruses which can infect a cell phone, there are undoubtedly bugs which can infect your car. Or by logical extension, your 'smart house', which sounds like an episode of the SCI-FI series 'Eureka', but is a real world concern when you think about it.

"No. That can't..."

      Sorry, too late. See links below for industry articles about the problem, and as with most things brand new, some said it has already happened, others say it is impossible.


      To the Desk in the Technology Field, using the word 'impossible' is a warning sign. Much like when a techie says the implementation of some update or refit will be 'transparent'.
      It would seem that about two years ago there was a burst of interest and investigation of the matter, then it vanished off the radar screen.

      Did it go away?

      What started as the latest 'shade tree' mechanic novelty to 'hack' their car's control chips to boost performance the same way guys in the sixties used to replace heads and carburetors. High Tech Tuners swap stories about computer code and modifications measured in micrometers just like the old timers still talk about increasing rear wheel torque with a turbocharger. And now it is something others do with wireless technology as something of a gag.
      It is half urban legend and half real world horror story which can end up costing you hundreds of dollars to get undone. And it probably is NOT covered by either your insurance or the car's warranty.
      Everything from the RF Chips in car keys which enable, or DIS-able, doors and ignition systems to engine control computers CAN in fact be Hacked.
      It is not a stretch to imagine a couple of geek-thugs (thug-geeks?) driving around town with a laptop and a hotwired wireless router matched to various automotive frequencies doing things like stalling cars at intersections or... worse.
      Since your car is now a depository of a great deal of information, including warranty information (owner name, address, etc) and cell phone numbers if the bad guys have the time and expertise, it wouldn't be much tougher to hack into the car than it would somebody's home wireless network, and possibly just as profitable.

      Everything we've discussed so far is an intentional attack. Somebody sets out to either break into your car in a simple act of random computer violence or an attempt to engage in criminal activity such as fraud or identity theft.
      It is just as probable that the bad things that happen result from the random interaction of the various things in our environment that now broadcast all over the spectrum on sometimes competing frequencies.
      MOST OF THE TIME these different devices simply ignore each other. Your walkie-talkie cell phone may 'hear' the broadcast from a toll booth pass card reader, but the phone knows the booth is not talking to it, so it doesn't act on the transmitted information. The same goes with pagers, music players, wireless cards in laptop computers, and even FM radios.
      There are a ton of various broadcast signals out there, some analog, some digital, some even a combination of the two, and all are intended for their target audience of gadgets. Most of the time an old TV with an antenna will pick up something that isn't a TV show (which is usually more entertaining than the shows that are on!), but it doesn't happen often.
      And indeed, pretty much every device made has a little sticker on the side of it that says that the device must live with whatever radiometric interference comes down the pike. (automotive article... come down the pike... get it? ... nevermind)

This device complies with Part 15 of the FCC Rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) this device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.
See the Reg at-

      But what if that 'undesired operation' is your airbags going off while your just driving down the road because some hotshot with a tricked out FRS radio hit the button when you went by?
      Are we back to the discussion of TV shows or is that a realistic possibility that nobody wants to talk about because it COULD happen?

moving on

      There is also a realistic possibility that a wireless device's infection will jump from a laptop to a car, or even from the manufacturer's infected system to its subscribers cars. Just like bird flu may jump from geese to people.
      More likely however is that some sort of program on a cell phone or game console will react badly with the car. Perhaps your neighbor's latest camera phone which was made in Europe is sending out a signal when it takes a picture that tells your Korean car to deploy its airbags. You car may be smart enough today to ignore the signal, but what happens as both your car and the phone age, and the guy across the street installs another wireless device that reacts with your car and your neighbor's phone? Then what?
      Some areas of our cities are already so noisy some devices will not work.
      Witness the Desk's house as an example. Back In The Day when there were babies in the house that needed monitoring, we had a baby monitor... or rather, we deployed an passive audio infant security surveillance system. Well, we tried. The first one would pick up the neighbor's cordless phone. Another one had an annoying background hum that turned out to be the city's sewer pumping station flow meter talking to whoever such a thing talked to. We've had AM/FM radios that were turned off pick up the trunk radio broadcasts of a truck depot a block away. There is a noticeable RF field in the back yard from the power lines that will register on a multi-tester clipped to a strip of aluminum foil. And so on.... According to the wireless network guru, the Desk's house is 'noisy' even when the teenagers aren't home.
      The Desk tried to install a wireless router in its house a few years ago. However, the technology as it was then simply did not like some interference from a nearby business's security system, so at night when their alarms were on, the router sometimes bogged down. Well, at least the alarm didn't call the fire department whenever somebody checked their email. But now, with the latest codec for wireless networks, its fine. Now the immediate area is even noisier.

      At some point something else is going to interfere with something else.
      It could very easily be that a baby monitor tells your car that the windshield washer fluid level is low. But it could just as easily be that some hacker is telling your car that it needs to pay a thousand dollars to the hacker's bank account for service to your cars on board baby monitor, or rather, back seat passenger passive surveillance system.

      And now with packages of toilet paper and rap music CDs having RF ID broadcast chips in them, what happens when you get the right, or wrong as the case may be, selection of products on a semi truck that happens to go under some power lines under just the right atmospheric conditions and you have just the right, or again- wrong, car going by at the same time and the combination does really stupid things to your on board systems?

      Truth be told, the Desk thinks it has already happened and may explain some otherwise unexplained wrecks that have

      This issue might be something to consider before you go investing in an 'all in one' communications device that integrates into your home PC and your refrigerator and your car and everything else... what if one or more of them 'gets sick'?

      As it turns out, the rumor from 2005 was indeed a myth. However, it is far from Impossible as one of the below stories claims.

      So we'll leave it right there with this-
      It is POSSIBLE, perhaps unlikely today, or maybe even tomorrow, but things that Can 'maybe, possibly, it could sometime down the road' Happen... DO OCCUR EVENTUALLY. ... didn't Mr. Murphy write a law that says something like that???

All from 2005 outside links open in new window
AUTOMOTIVE / DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY column has an article on it as well, with CNET

The Lexus Virus Myth

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[NOTE: The Desk is NOT affiliated with anybody or anything mentioned above. Its car does not get email, its celphone does not surf the web, its fridge can't phone anybody, and its camper does not talk to satellites... and the Desk likes it that way. Thank You ]

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