IP Insights

Hackers, Drivers and Cheaters! Oh, My!

Technological advances in the Internet and software applications have introduced amazing consumer conveniences, some which were practically science fiction just 20 years ago.

We've moved way beyond the email and shopping online.

For example, today's technology allows you to manipulate your vehicle—start it up, turn on the heater, get the radio playing—without your having to be in it! Today's "smart vehicles"—with the aid of a smartphone, tablet or computer—can even take over the wheel and brakes to help you avoid traffic accidents.

When it comes to your love life, hundreds of websites today make it easy to do pretty much anything you want to make your life more exciting, including meeting someone special (or those special "someones") through a myriad of dating websites.

But as is always the case, wherever there are innovations, there are also hackers lurking nearby, ready to spoil the adventure—although the hackers themselves might not see it that way.

Taking over the wheel.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, in 2015, two hackers brazenly demonstrated to the world that they could remotely take over the controls of a Jeep Cherokee—not while it was parked in some driveway, but while it was actually on the road.

The hackers, working from a laptop (and working through a hacked Jeep owner's account), adjusted the air conditioning of the SUV, changed stations on the vehicle's radio and even altered the vehicle's speed by manipulating the transmission.

Fortunately, there wasn't an unsuspecting driver in the car headed to work: It was all part of a controlled demonstration the hackers set up. But why did they do it?

Turns out these weren't pimple-faced vandals looking for a remote joyride. Instead, according the WSJ reports, they were computer-security researchers who claim they were trying to bring to light an important issue—that most cars that have computer-controlled features are potentially easy targets for hackers.

Their demonstration, although condemned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (the maker of Jeep) and others, attained the level of attention the researchers wanted. The auto industry took notice. For instance:

  • General Motors (Chevy, Cadillac, Buick, etc.) reportedly has joined forces with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to look closely at the issue of vehicle data and the potential for hacks.
  • Some elements of the auto industry have hired private consulting firms to develop a security plan to keep higher-tech vehicles safe and protected.

The cheaters.

Years ago (according to all those movies from the '60s), if a husband wanted to have an affair, he lured the secretary, the elevator girl or the switchboard operator with fast talk and fancy dining.

Then the Internet came along. That made it easy for singles to "hook up," through legitimate dating sites and not-so-honorable ones...even if they are technically legitimate. For example, there's one site designed specifically for married people looking for affairs with other married people. Since that whole business involves doing something on the sly, discretion and privacy are absolutely vital, right? The last thing you'd want is to have the website's secret information revealed.

Exposed!

However, that's exactly what a hacker did to the AshleyMadison.com website in July 2015, breaking into the website's system and stealing the "profiles" (personal information) of millions of members. Worse yet, some of that data was published right away with a threat to release all of it if the AshleyMadison.com website didn't shut down. (That didn't happen though.)

You can imagine the fear that ran though AshleyMadison.com executives...as well as all their members! What's quite amazing is that the website didn't actually acknowledge outright that a breach had occurred. Quite the opposite: After news of the hack was made known, the company's website still referred to its "trusted security award" and stated that it provides a "100% discrete service."

But what was the reason for the hack? It seems that the digital intruder had a beef with AshleyMadison.com's credit card handling policy and wanted to bring it to light. It had nothing to do with an angry spouse's revenge or even blackmail. The hacker perceived that AshleyMadison.com wasn't being up front with their members about how their credit card information was handled when they closed an account. It's not even certain that the complaint was totally accurate.

Are hackers hurting or helping?

In both hacking episodes, the culprits claim to be doing some good on behalf of the customers, if not on behalf of the companies they hacked, as well. The hackers who took over automobiles said they were bringing to light the security holes that exist when cars are accessible online—that message is being heard loud and clear by automakers and security consultants.

As far as the "romance" website, the hacker forced AshleyMadison.com to review its policies, which might be better for its customers.

Just try telling that to any of the customers who are worried their wives or husbands might discover the deep dark secret that the hacker revealed. Or perhaps they're just getting what they deserve anyway.

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