Making a Difference

My Personal and Professional views

Death By Network – Are Stupid Connected Devices Placing Us At Risk?

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We all understand that lack of network security can result in economic loss. In the case of identity theft it can destroy your financial stability and take a serious bite out of your well being.  However, did you ever consider that poor network security might result in your death?


I was just reading about car hacking when I stumbled upon the below Motherboard video explaining how car hacking works.


Digg How to Hack a car:


I then thought, while it is certainly possible to do, how likely is it too happen? You would really need to upset some very well connected people to have them go to the trouble of digitally stomping on your accelerator at just the wrong time.

That’s when I found the Huff Post article on the untimely demise of journalist Michael Hastings.  It seems that his car was speeding out of control at 4:20 AM when it blew through a red light, jumped a median, and exploded after colliding with a palm tree.  According to Huff and New York Magazine, Hasting’s had just the type of enemies who could remotely end his life.


Huff Post:

New York Magazine: 


Since our cars are now largely computer controlled, connected to the wireless network  and drive by wire, it is possible to meddle with the serious business of driving your car. While it is comforting to know that OnStar can unlock your car when you leave the keys inside, it is less comforting to think that some evildoer can step on the gas and steer you into a wall.

Like so many innovations, the engineers driving to connect with the automobile remotely did not take the time to seriously consider the potentially negative consequences. We are moving into an era where we are surrounded by the networking of things. While some of these things are fairly harmless and benign others have the power to seriously affect our physical safety.


What people typically worry about when they think about technology gone wrong is the rogue robot or thinking computer turning on us. For this reason any robot builder has reads Asimov’s iRobot and is aware of the three laws of robotics:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  1. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  2. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.


From where I sit it seems that the robot, in fact worse, the un-thinking, ignorant device, is among us. You can be sure that when Google is programming the Google Care they are keeping these things in mind after all this is a true robot. Knowing that the car will self operate with humans on board compels the developers to follow the 3 rules and protect its passengers and fellow travellers and pedestrians at all costs. The Google Car knows the difference between a child in the street and a dog and can act accordingly in microseconds to make the correct choice.


What about Ford, GM, VW,  Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota and Mercedes? Do they appreciate that they are delivering products that can fall into the control of outsiders? Have they developed safeguards to allow an operator to over-ride external controls? Not to my knowledge.

Now that we are getting in to the Internet of things I think it is time to appreciate that a stupid device can be far more dangerous than an intelligent one. Perhaps it is time that we move the three laws down the computation food chain and applied this thinking at all levels of things networked.

All things networked includes office copiers that can be remotely overheated and set-afire, to deregulating pacemakers that con be accessed from a distance and jump start a failing heart or overstress one to the point of failure.  In time our door-locks and thermostats will also be on the net. It is no longer adequate to be concerned with just the behavior or “robotic” things. It is time to think of all aspects of the technology stack and make sure we design in the safeguards to avoid unwanted outcomes.

We may never actually know what happened to Michael Hastings. We do know that the scenario of a remotely controlled auto homicide  is plausible and we should take this tragedy as a wake-up call to design safeguards for all things networked and for the well being of all of us interacting with them.




More details on Hastings Fears:

Hastings brother is not buying the conspiracy theory:


If you think hacking a car is bad, how about hacking a pacemaker?



More details on Hastings Fears:


Remote controlled Cardioverters:
























Written by Jim McNiel

June 4, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on Making a Difference.

    Jim McNiel

    July 4, 2015 at 4:48 pm

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