How an Apple security expert ‘bricked’ his brand new jeep

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The world's largest brick? Photo: Trucktrend
The world's largest brick? Photo: Trucktrend

In addition to Apple devices, noted security expert and The Mac Hacker’s Handbook co-author Charlie Miller has carried out some fascinating (and potentially terrifying) research into hacking vehicles.

Last year, alongside fellow hacker Chris Valasek, Miller demonstrated that it is possible to hijack the steering and brakes of a Ford Escape and Toyota Prius using only a laptop connected to the car.

Having done that, he has now moved onto exploring vulnerabilities in other vehicles — including his new 2014 Cherokee jeep. All that research comes at a high price, however, since Miller recently revealed on Twitter that he has managed to “brick” his vehicle, after hacking the head unit.

As he put it, “This is an expensive hobby.”

Miller had previously deemed the 2014 Jeep Cherokee one of the vehicles most vulnerable to hackers, alongside the 2015 Cadillac Escalade. His own research was therefore designed to explore the extent of this vulnerability.

He has rated the vehicle hackable based on the number of features that can be hacked (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mobile network connections, key fobs, and tyre pressure monitoring systems), the network architecture (giving access to a vehicle’s critical systems, such as the horn, the steering and brakes), and also features such as automated braking, and parking sensors that can be controlled using wireless commands.

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.”

After a trip to the automotive shop, where the head unit was replaced, Miller tweeted that, “This is another example of why car research is hard. One little mistake costs you a week and big bucks.”

The hacking appears to have paid off, though, since Miller has determined that his jeep’s software is still vulnerable to jailbreak bug he originally discovered months back.

Cult of Mac reached out to Miller, but he says he doesn’t want to talk about his research until it’s completed.