In a demonstration, a pair of hackers compromised a Cherokee’s onboard systems with writer Andy Greenberg in the driver’s seat. They were able to do everything from control the HVAC (mildly annoying) to kill the engine (potentially deadly) from miles away.
We’ve known today’s vehicles were vulnerable to electronic attack for a while now. In 2013, Greenberg sat helplessly in a Toyota Prius as the same hackers -- Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek -- commandeered the controls. That time, however, the pair was sitting in the back seat; they needed a hard-line connection to the car to interfere with its operations. Today, vehicles’ increasingly prevalent onboard cellular systems can provide the link attackers need to seize control.
The Fiat Chrysler Uconnect system, shown here in a 2015 Jeep Cherokee, may have security flaws that leave vehicles vulnerable to hackers.PHOTO BY JEEP
Before you freak out, know that a software patch is available to fix the problem. Like every other vehicle recall or technical service bulletin ever issued, however, Fiat Chrysler’s fix -- which comes in the form of a user-installable update -- will only improve your vehicle ownership experience/keep you safe from computer-savvy teenagers with malicious intent if it is actually performed on your vehicle.
Unlike every other recall/TSB we can think of, however, you can install the upgrade yourself without ever popping the hood. Truly, we are entering a brave new world of vehicle ownership.
To install the patch:
- Jot down your vehicle’s 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) -- you'll need it to see if the software update applies in your situation.
- Visit the software update section of the Uconnect website here and input that VIN. From there, you’ll be able to download the relevant update and extract it to a removable USB flash drive. The Uconnect site will guide you through the process if you’re having trouble. There are also a number of helpful, owner-contributed online video tutorials that cover the subject, like this one here for a Uconnect-equipped Dodge Dart (the update process is the same).
- Connect that flash drive into your vehicle via its onboard USB port and, when prompted, confirm that you want to install the update. That’s basically it.
- If you don’t feel comfortable performing the procedure yourself, you can take it to a dealership and they’ll perform the update at no cost to you.
- If you have any questions, you can call the Fiat Chrysler vehicle care center at (877) 855-8400.
A note to all of you feeling smug about not buying a Uconnect-equipped Cherokee: This Jeep may be one of the first vehicles to have its software flaws exposed, but it certainly won’t be the last; in the near future, no automaker, except maybe Morgan, will be totally invulnerable to hackers. Consider it the price we pay for lavish, complicated onboard technology and infinite in-car connectivity, and be prepared to get proactive when it comes to keeping up with emerging threats.
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