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September 13, 2016 3:00 PM, EDT

Rep. Fred Upton Wants NHTSA to Look at Vehicle Hacking

Office of Rep. Fred Upton

WASHINGTON — Leaders of a key congressional committee want auto safety regulators to tell them what they are doing to address concerns that vehicle safety may be compromised by hackers who may be able to affect automobiles by tapping into their systems through diagnostic ports and devices.

U.S. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, (R-Mich.), and other members of the committee wrote National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind on Sept. 12 to ask that he convene “an industrywide effort” to address the threat.

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Researchers, they noted, had been able to “successfully override built-in safeguard within the vehicle’s network” to activate brakes and turn the steering wheel, raising concerns about possible hacking. The committee members also said automakers are concerned about the vulnerabilities of the diagnostic ports — which were required in vehicles after 1994 — while also recognizing that repair shops and others rely on their accessibility.

Noting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or  NHTSA, is already looking into developing rules that could make the ports more secure, the letter writers urged the agency to work with the auto industry and others “given the potential severity of the risk, the diversity of the stakeholders involved and the complicated equities that must be balanced.”

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As the Free Press has reported in the past, hacking into automobiles has become a larger concern in recent years, especially after a Wired magazine article in July, 2015, in which two software engineers described how they were able to take over control of a Jeep Cherokee in a test. FCA recalled 1.4 million Jeep Cherokees to fix a software vulnerability they discovered as a result.

Upton and the others asked Rosekind to report back to them by Oct. 12 with a plan for addressing the vulnerability and working with automakers and others, and to make staff available to discuss next steps with the committee.