FBI Warns Consumers Cars Can Be Hacked. Suddenly Security Is a Great 'Marketing Strategy'

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A Google self-driving car (human at the wheel) at company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
A Google self-driving car (human at the wheel) at company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Good news came this week when top auto marketers said they'd agreed to make automatic braking standard in almost every vehicle they sell by 2022. Driver doesn't brake, or doesn't brake enough? The car stops anyway. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that could mean 1 million fewer auto accidents every year.

At virtually the same time, the Department of Transportation and Alphabet said they'd begun working on a project to make it easier for entirely driverless cars to get around.

And then came the FBI's "public service announcement" on Thursday, titled "MOTOR VEHICLES INCREASINGLY VULNERABLE TO REMOTE EXPLOITS":

Modern motor vehicles often include new connected vehicle technologies that aim to provide benefits such as added safety features, improved fuel economy, and greater overall convenience. Aftermarket devices are also providing consumers with new features to monitor the status of their vehicles. However, with this increased connectivity, it is important that consumers and manufacturers maintain awareness of potential cyber security threats.

Wired's Andy Greenberg could have told you this; in fact he did, last July, in an article headline "Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway -- With Me in It."

The unnerving PSA from the FBI, co-signed by the DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has a lot of advice for drivers: Don't procrastinate on those software updates. Think twice before plugging in that insurance dongle. "Maintain awareness of those who may have access to your vehicle."

There's no advice for marketers, which is appropriate enough, but some follows logically just the same. The Justice Department has mocked Apple's religion on device security as a "marketing strategy," but automakers will need to make security both a reality and, yes, a marketing strategy. Even if commercials promising that hackers can't drive this car off a bridge would stoke more terror than sales, more subtly couched security messaging will become the norm soon enough. Either that, or self-driving cars aren't going anywhere.