Going Too Far to Prove a Point

I just read Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway – With Me in It by Andy Greenberg. It includes the following:

“I was driving 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold…

To better simulate the experience of driving a vehicle while it’s being hijacked by an invisible, virtual force, Miller and Valasek refused to tell me ahead of time what kinds of attacks they planned to launch from Miller’s laptop in his house 10 miles west. Instead, they merely assured me that they wouldn’t do anything life-threatening. Then they told me to drive the Jeep onto the highway. “Remember, Andy,” Miller had said through my iPhone’s speaker just before I pulled onto the I-40 on-ramp, “no matter what happens, don’t panic.”

As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.

At that point, the interstate began to slope upward, so the Jeep lost more momentum and barely crept forward. Cars lined up behind my bumper before passing me, honking. I could see an 18-wheeler approaching in my rearview mirror. I hoped its driver saw me, too, and could tell I was paralyzed on the highway.


“You’re doomed!” Valasek shouted, but I couldn’t make out his heckling over the blast of the radio, now pumping Kanye West. The semi loomed in the mirror, bearing down on my immobilized Jeep.

I followed Miller’s advice: I didn’t panic. I did, however, drop any semblance of bravery, grab my iPhone with a clammy fist, and beg the hackers to make it stop…

After narrowly averting death by semi-trailer, I managed to roll the lame Jeep down an exit ramp, re-engaged the transmission by turning the ignition off and on, and found an empty lot where I could safely continue the experiment. (emphasis added)

I had two reactions to this article:

1. It is horrifying that hackers can remotely take control of a vehicle. The auto industry has a lot of work to do. It’s unfortunate that it takes private research and media attention to force a patch (which has now been published.) Hopefully a combination of Congressional attention, product safety laws, and customer pressure will improve the security of the auto industry before lives and property are affected.

2. It is also horrifying to conduct a hacking “experiment” on I-40, with vehicles driving at 60 or more MPH, carrying passengers. It’s not funny to put lives at risk, whether they are volunteers like the driver/author or other people on the highway.

Believing it is ok reflects the same juvenile thinking that motivated another “researcher,” Chris Roberts, to apparently “experiment” with live airplanes, as reported by Wired and other news outlets.

Hackers are not entitled to jeopardize the lives of innocent people in order to make a point. They can prove their discoveries without putting others, who have not consented to be guinea pigs, at risk.

It would be a tragedy if the first death by physical-digital convergence occurs because a “security researcher” is “experimenting” in order to demonstrate a proof of concept.