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Fiat Chrysler owners urged to update software after Jeep hacked and crashed

William Payne
July 22, 2015
 
Owners of Fiat Chrysler cars are being urged by security experts to update their system software after two hackers took control of a Jeep while it was being driven at 112km/hr, braked it, disabled the engine and crashed it into a ditch.
 
The hack was part of a controlled experiment. The two hackers notified Fiat Chrysler of their exploit nine months ago. Fiat Chrysler issued a software update to fix the problem on July 16.
 
However updating the system software on the Jeep and other Fiat Chrysler vehicles requires either downloading a fix from Fiat Chrysler's web site, and updating the car's software through a USB stick, or taking a car into a registered Fiat Chrysler dealer.
 
The exploit was carried out by Charlie Miller, a former employee of the US government communications security agency, the NSA, and Chris Valasek, two well known embedded systems security experts. The exploit was witnessed by technology journalist Andy Greenberg, who drove the car while it was being hacked. The three have now gone public with the exploit in an effort to encourage Fiat Chrysler owners to ensure that their vehicles have the latest updated systems software.
 
Miller tweeted: "This update might not sound particularly important, but trust me, if you can, you really should install this one."
 
The exploit was made possible due a vulnerability in the Fiat Chrysler Uconnect, the dashboard computer software that has been built into Fiat Chrysler cars since 2013. Uconnect controls the car's entertainment system and allows phone calls. It also handles the car's navigation, and allows owners to start their cars remotely, flash headlights and unlock doors.
 
According to Miller and Valasek, the Uconnect system is vulnerable if the car's IP address is captured.
 
In their exploit, Miller and Valasek, seated in a basement kilometres from the vehicle, connected to the Jeep driven by Greenberg through the internet. The car was being driven at 112km/hr in St Louis. First the air conditioning was switched full on, then the radio was switched to a local hip-hop station, and the volume was turned full on. Greenberg attempted to change the settings back to where they had been, but had no control of the electrics. Then Miller and Valasek turned the car's windscreen wipers on, and squirted fluid over the windscreen.
 
Then the hackers cut the car's transmission. The accelerator stopped working, and the car slowed to a halt. Their final exploit was to disable the car's brakes, which sent it sliding into a ditch.
 
The two hackers are also able to kill the engine fully, and also abruptly engage the brakes, as well as disabling them. They are also able to control the car's steering, although only when the car is in reverse at present. They can also use the hack for surveillance. They can track a hacked Jeep's GPS coordinates as well as measure its speed.
 
Greenberg discovered that the only way he could regain control of the car was to switch it off completely.
 
Miller and Valasek achieved all this by inserting rewritten firmware onto the car's computer system.
 
Previous work by Miller and Valasek, when they hacked a Ford Escape and Toyota Prius, inspired the automotive security bill being presented to senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal to Congress this month. However, the pair's previous exploits were carried out while in the cars, with their laptops plugged in by cable directly to the dashboard computers. This latest exploit involving Fiat Chrysler was carried out remotely over the internet.