The staff suspected malfunctions in a new Internet device, installed behind dashboards of second-hand cars, that allowed the dealership to remind customers of overdue payments by taking remote control of some vehicle functions. But a check of the dealership’s computers suggested something more sinister at work: Texas Auto Center had been hacked.
The making of a vulnerable Internet: This story is the fourth of a multi-part project on the Internet’s inherent vulnerabilities and why they may never be fixed.
Part 1: The story of how the Internet became so vulnerable
Part 2: The long life of a ‘quick fix’
Part 3: These hackers warned the Internet would become a security disaster. Nobody listened.
In addition to blaring horns and disabling starters, someone had replaced listings of Dodges and Chevrolets with names of top-of-the-line sports cars. The owners of these vehicles, meanwhile, now appeared to be an odd mix of rappers and fictional characters.
“Mickey Mouse was driving a Lamborghini,” recalled Martin Garcia, general manager of the Austin dealership. “We pretty much figured out within a matter of minutes that we had a problem.”
Above: Charlie Miller, a security researcher, demonstrates in St. Louis his ability to take control of a Jeep Cherokee. Using the car’s Internet address and a laptop, Miller was able to adjust the radio volume and turn on the windshield wipers as the Jeep was being driven nearby. He shut off the engine and disabled the brakes when the vehicle was more than a mile away. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
Police later reported more than 100 victims and charged a former dealership employee with computer crimes. Five years later, this incident remains noteworthy because of what has followed: An increasingly vast array of machines — from prison doors to airplane engines to heart defibrillators — have joined what is commonly called the “Internet of Things,” meaning they are wired into our borderless, lawless, insecure online world.
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