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Those high­tech, gotta-­stay-­connected features you love make you more vulnerable

Today’s tech innovations create new opportunities for criminals and law enforcement can’t keep up.

Did you know that about half of the cost of that new car you’re considering is the electronics contained under all those sealed boxes under the hood, in your dashboard, and in your between-the­-seats storage? If you drive an EV or hybrid, it’s more like 80%. Every system in your car, from the keyless entry to the anti­lock braking system to the back­-up camera, the reclining seats, and the AC is controlled by computer chips and millions upon millions of individual lines of computer code.

Basically, today’s cars are street-­legal rolling supercomputers. They utilize more code, in fact, than the 1.7 million lines of code required to operate one of the F­22 fighter jets now in use by the US military. They have more computing power than anything in NASA’s toolbox during the Apollo program. And each line of code can be a potential entry point for someone wishing to do you physical and emotional harm. Or, at the very least, make your life a living hell for a few days while you reset passwords on all your accounts and, do everything else you must in response to being hacked. Code-­savvy kids today even participate in these exploits just for the “fun” of seeing how totally they can anonymously screw up someone’s life.

As my former LAPD colleague Marc Goodman puts forth in his highly­-acclaimed NY Times bestseller Future Crimes: The more we plug our devices and our lives into the global information grid—whether via mobile phones, social networks, elevators, or self­-driving cars—the more vulnerable we become to those who know how the underlying technologies work and how to exploit them to their advantage and to the detriment of the ‘common man.’ Simply stated, when everything is connected, everyone is vulnerable. The technology we routinely accept into our lives with little or no self­-reflection or examination may very well

come back to bite us.”

All those chips in your car, controlling everything your vehicle does, can be hacked because no one has invented an unhackable chip. Researchers at Stanford University and in South Korea are close, but they aren’t anywhere close to bringing one to market.

What would you do if you were driving down the road and suddenly your steering wheel yanked severely to the left, sending you into oncoming traffic and a head­on collision? That may seem the stuff of science fiction, but it is science fact today. And it has the potential to be done remotely from hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

That OnStar network which calls an ambulance when airbags deploy uses the vehicle’s GPS to find you and millions of other users. What if their code were compromised so that attackers gained access to the controller area network that directs the onboard computers of all those millions of users? What if they, en masse, stopped every vehicle on the network in its tracks at once? Can you imagine the traffic calamity, injury and death that would cause? It’s not outside the realm of probability these days.

Self­-driving cars have proved to be 50­70% better at avoiding traffic accidents than human drivers. But what if someone hacked your self­-driving vehicle and drove you off a cliff or accelerated you into a building?

Less lethal intrusions are being refined every second of every day. Does your phone need a quick charge? There’s a port for that. And your bluetooth capability makes finding a WiFi hot spot a breeze. But once you connect wirelessly, you are ripe for the pickin’, especially if you’re one of the almost 50% of smartphone users who don’t password protect their phones, or who use 1223456 or “password” as the password. If you use the same password for all your accounts, they’ll determine that, too, and create mayhem in every one. Just because they can.

And that’s if they don’t steal you blind. All those computer chips have been a boon to car thieves, too. They can use a small digital device locksmith’s use to re­key cars with digital keys. They just use the device to change the frequency then drive off in your car. And all of the tools they need to do all of that can be gathered for a price on what is known as the “dark web.”

There is a dark underbelly to the internet as we know it. It’s a place where criminals go to learn how to be a better crook and where terrorists gather to plot their attacks. It’s an order of magnitude larger than what we can access, and within it you can find lessons on everything from building bombs in your grandma’s kitchen to how to exploit an unsecured wireless network. But because we willingly embrace this new technology without a thought toward its

ability to do harm to us, we blissfully go about our business without practicing the proper “digital hygiene” that has been shown to protect us from being blindsided by a 21st century cartel.

Ladies, we’ve got to do better with protecting ourselves in the digital world. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to use strong passwords. Forget anniversary dates, birthdays, all the sentimental stuff. Think military-­grade-­encryption­-type­-strong. Goodman and other experts recommend they be at least 20 characters in a mix of special characters, numbers and random upper and lower case letters. DO NOT use the same password for another account. Each account should have its own, unique password. Just write them down in a book or get a good password manager program for your smartphone and computer. Dashlane is a good secure password locker and digital wallet. I like it because it nags at you until you change all your lousy passwords, changes them for you, and keeps track of them. It also keeps receipts of your online purchases.

The former director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, once said that now there are only two types of corporations in the world, those that have been hacked and those that will be. We are placing our blind trust in what we see on our many networked devices without understanding how it works. This makes us vulnerable to those who understand its weaknesses and know how to exploit them.

We’ll revisit cyber security issues in upcoming posts because this issue will be with us as long as we have computers and people who want to profit from human ignorance, inattention and stupidity. You won’t believe how clever the global criminal class has become!

If you wish to learn more about my friend Marc’s background or want to read a good “true crime” thriller, get the book Future Crimes. I guarantee you’ll never again view the internet as merely a benign entertainment, shopping, and information resource. As computer technology brings greater interconnectedness in the internet of things, opportunities for mischief rise exponentially.

While I’m on a personal security theme, here’s another tip: stop posting where you’re dining or vacationing on social networks. If you’re eating at a restaurant 25 miles from home, and you post your location, it tells everyone you are not at home and approximately how long it will take you to get there ­­ anyone monitoring the restaurant’s free Wi­Fi may be able to determine where you live and go rob you while you’re enjoying your BBQ dinner or strolling on that beach.

Only use free Wi­Fi if you are using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) program like CyberGhost or MaskMyIP. Both have free and paid options. They hide your real IP address and makes it look like you are in a completely different location on the planet. Hiding your tracks on the internet has never been more important. Don’t be a victim. If you protect your info, you protect yourself, your family and your home.

Wishing you happy, safe (hack-­free) motoring!

Post Author
Donna Wade
Donna J. Wade is a freelance writer who now is living large in a sleepy southern California mountain town. A former police officer, police academy instructor and disciplinary board member, she is the co-author of Planning for the Unthinkable: A Law Enforcement Funeral Planning Guide, described by reviewers and law enforcement managers as the most comprehensive manual available on the subject. Her work has been published in the FBI Law Enforcement Training Bulletin, the Los Angeles Daily News, and other regional and national publications. An animal advocate, she shares her life with her spouse of many years and two canine fur kids. To learn more visit her website

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