Get Ready For the Mad Max New World of Hijacked Electric Cars and Downed Power Grids
Colonial and Solar Winds were dress rehearsals for this age of road mayhem
If American motorists behave like typical consumers, they will notice a steep drop in the price of electric vehicles around the middle of the decade, and begin to snap them up. And with that, they will crack open a vast new vulnerability to the world’s cyber criminals, Machiavellian spymasters, malicious actors, and the odd benign voyeur.
A decade and a half into the new age of cyber warfare, the electronic equivalent of hostile forces are crawling through the guts of the most critical computers on the planet, in core companies, energy infrastructure, and government agencies from the U.S. to China, Russia to North Korea, Iran and beyond. Everywhere, these digitally savvy armies are probing for weak spots, observing the behavior of their adversaries, and planting barely perceptible nodes for possible activization later — software bombs with the potential to take down an electric grid, stop a payments system, or release highly sensitive information for the world to see.
But what unfolds next looks likely to be an elevated phase of such intelligent gamesmanship: a free-for-all built around the new world of electrification, in which virtually all the main adversaries on the world stage have the capability to take down small and large parts of the others’ power grid — and who do so, routinely. And who hijack the EVs and other portable connected devices that are fast becoming fixtures of our 21st century lives.
A major 2018 report by the U.S. Transportation Department said hackers could create mayhem of the new EV fleet by flooding Internet connections with messages, blocking the transmission of legitimate, needed traffic. Such “denial of service” attacks could prevent vehicles from charging up and throw the grid off balance, the report said. Vehicles could be commandeered. Chips and systems could be reprogrammed to carry out malicious or just crazy functions.
“Think of the Bonnie and Clyde-era of bank robbers,” said Stuart Madnick, an emeritus professor of information technology at MIT Sloan School of Management. “I see us at a phase somewhat like that.”