The Internet of Things connects machines to other machines in a wide variety of fields and industries. In our digital lives, we are connecting devices to our networks at work and at home. In addition to work and home, however, we spend much of our waking time in transit from one place to another, often in our private automobiles. The Internet of Things is extending our digital lives to our cars, trucks, and other road vehicles. With this new integration comes privacy, security, and other legal issues.
A 2015 episode of the CBS television show “60 Minutes” vividly illustrates what can happen when we connect cars with information technology networks. In the show, reporter Lesley Stahl sat behind the wheel of a nondescript dark gray sedan while driving through a tree-lined suburban parking lot. She appeared on a 60 Minutes segment aired on February 8, 2015. In the driver’s seat next to her was Kathleen Fisher, a veteran of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or “DARPA” for short. As Stahl navigated one end of the cleared parking lot, two men stood at the other end – Karl Koscher, a University of Washington Ph.D. student, and Dan Kaufman, who was then Director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office. Koscher used a laptop sitting on black boxes of what appeared to be equipment, while Kaufman provided instructions.
Kaufman told Koscher, “You wanna hit the fluids?” Koscher typed something on the laptop and suddenly the windshield wiper fluid sprayed onto the windshield on Stahl’s car and the wipers started moving back and forth. Stahl said “I did nothing” to turn on the spray. And yet, without Stahl doing anything, Koscher had taken control of the wipers and fluid. In a cut-away scene, Stahl explained that hackers had contacted the car’s emergency communications system, flooded it with sound data, and inserted a piece of code, which reprogrammed the car’s software so the researchers could take complete remote control of the car. Further demonstrating this control, Koscher caused the horn to sound, again without Stahl’s knowledge or action.