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July 24, 2015

During a controlled experiment held in the United States recently, two individuals reportedly hacked into a Chrysler Jeep Cherokee and controlled its features - including the music player, the windshield wipers and the digital navigation system. The vehicle was eventually forced to stop in the middle of a busy highway. The hackers subsequently shared their findings with the manufacturer, who then created an update to fix the loophole for customers. The hackers have reportedly conducted similar experiments earlier, including on a Ford Escape and a Toyata Prius in 2013. The difference then was that the computer was wired into the dashboard of the vehicle, but during the latest test the technology could be controlled wirelessly, with the operators based 16km (10mi) away. 

Update: On Friday, July 24th, Chrysler announced a recall that includes 1.4 million vehicles. The vehicle owners will receive a USB drive that will update the software through the car's dashboard port. The fix will include network-level security measures to ensure security on the Sprint network - which is the cellular carrier for the vehicles in question. 

Analyst Comment: While the hack was conducted in a controlled environment, the experiment highlights concerns automobile manufacturers will need to address when integrating their products with the internet. Companies, including insurance firms, will need to factor these concerns into their overall assessment of the risk and manufacturing costs of the product. It is estimated that 150 million passenger vehicles could be connected to the internet by 2020. In addition to safety features, such a hack raises privacy concerns concerning the tracking of drivers. A lack of effective oversight by car manufacturers could make them culpable concerning the violation of privacy laws, which are being increasingly enacted worldwide. 

Prepared by: Siddharth Ramana, India  

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