Many of you have no doubt heard about the recent push by automakers to make working on your own vehicle illegal. For those of you who have not heard about this, allow me to explain. Most of the major automakers are arguing that because of the amount of software your vehicle contains, modifying it is akin to hacking, stealing, and destroying. They are also essentially claiming that people are too stupid to work on it themselves.
This argument does not mean you cannot change your own oil, but it does mean that if you ever wanted to modify you car’s on-board computer to gain more performance, you would be breaking the law. And, I am sure you are asking what law the automakers are attempting to hijack to make such a claim. Why of course, it is our good friend the DMCA. Yes, the same bill that outlaws pirating music, movies, etc.
At first glance, this is something that is truly anger inspiring. These auto companies are trying to limit how we work on/drive our vehicles. There are many after-market performance shops that will be severely limited as to how they can upgrade your vehicle. The days will be gone where you can buy a cheap car, put some time and money into it, and one day have your own tuner.
But after I had some time to research and think about this, I had a more chilling thought. Why are we being locked out of the vehicle’s computer? Almost every system in a newer vehicle is linked to the on board computers. This includes heating/air, navigation, stereo, as well as the engine, trans, etc. And many new vehicles are “drive by wire”. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it means that the controls you use to operate your vehicle (gas pedal, steering, etc) are not mechanically connected to the components they control. For instance, when you press the gas pedal, a sensor will detect the motion and electronically relay the message to the computer which in turn tells the engine to accelerate. It also means that some steering wheels are not mechanically connected either. They use the same elaborate sensors to control the vehicle as well.
And lets not forget how many cars have satellite connections ( on star, etc) We all are amazed at what these systems are capable of doing. In case you are not familiar with their capabilities, allow me to explain. With On-Star, you are able to call the company and have them locate the vehicle, remotely start it up or shut it down, remotely unlock it, etc. They can even tell you if your vehicle is over-due for an oil change or is malfunctioning in some way. Why? Because all these systems are linked to the main computer which is linked to On-Star. They truly know more about your vehicle at any given time than you the driver.
So are these car companies trying to lock of us out of the vehicles’ computers because they do not want us knowing everything that they know? Or do they not want us to see how much big brother is spying on us? Or do they think that eventually a hacker will steal the code, figure out how to modify it, and maliciously and remotely use it in an attack? You be the judge.
In case you wondered what I was referring to the code being used as a method of attack, imagine this:
“You’re driving along the highway, you see the instrument panel slightly flash, feel a slight stutter in the engine, or so you think. It must have been your imagination. You keep driving toward your destination. You notice a fuel truck approaching you in the distance. Suddenly, your vehicle swerves into the oncoming lane and accelerates. You turn the wheel and hit the brakes, but nothing happens. The truck blares its horn at you, but you are helpless. The truck hits its brakes and jackknifes trying to stop, but you are not in control of your own car. Your vehicle drives right into the side of the tanker, exploding in a fiery blast.”
Is this far fetched? Possibly. But is it impossible, you tell me. But if you think copyrighting the computer code would ever prevent such a scenario, ask yourself this, since when has any criminal obeyed the law?
Where do we draw the line with big brother?