More Car-Hacking Alarmism: Mac Hacker Didn't Really 'Brick' His Jeep

Illustration for article titled More Car-Hacking Alarmism: Mac Hacker Didn't Really 'Brick' His Jeep

There's an article out now about how Apple security expert and intrepid car-hacking experimenter managed to 'brick' his new Jeep Cherokee. Fascinating story, right? Guy destroys his own car with a laptop? Too bad it's not true. Well, I guess good for the Jeep owner/experimenter.


If we really look at what happened, all this story really tells is that, duh, you can really fuck some shit up in your car if you connect a laptop to your car's brains and start poking around. The same rule applies to, say, a dog's brains, too.

More importantly, Charlie Miller didn't brick his car. To 'brick' a car (or any device) is a very specific term that suggests that whatever you did caused the machine to revert to an inert, inoperative state. Like, you know, a brick.

That's not to say cars can't be bricked, in certain circumstances; some early Tesla Roadsters managed to be bricked by letting their batteries deplete completely, for example, but it's not common.

What it looks like happened to Miller's Cherokee is that, by hacking and exploring vulnerabilities in the head unit, that unit itself was compromised, and maybe that particular component was bricked. As the article states:

Unfortunately, the car head unit he hacked most recently controls functions including the radio, heater, heated steering wheel and seats, rear camera, and sat-nav — leaving Miller with a vehicle best described as "downright primitive."


So, basically, he turned his 2014 Cherokee into a "downright primitive" car without climate control, rear-camera, sat-nav — essentially, like the downright primitive car I drive every day. It does not seem like any of his tinkering affected the ECU or driving dynamics of the car.


It's good that Charlie Miller is doing this research, and if he wants to poke around in the software of his own car, more power to him. I'm sure there are interesting things that can be learned, and security can be improved as a result. But let's just be very clear about what's happened here: a guy physically plugged a computer into his car, gained access to the car's internal systems, explored, made changes, etc. and as a result broke some stuff.

This is not something everyday drivers need to be worried about. This is no different than how you could, on a pre-computerized car, change the jets in your carburetor until your car ran like smoky crap. So there's the lesson: if you screw around with your own car, you can break stuff.


Thanks for the update.



Downright Primitive = things my vehicle doesn't have: sat nav, rearview camera, dvd/bluray, bluetooth, mp3 capability, aux inputs, iPod jack, HUD, adaptive cruise control, satellite radio, automatic washers...