back to article Daft draft anti-car-hack law could put innocent drivers away for life

Two state senators in Michigan, US, have proposed a set of laws that promise life imprisonment for anyone fiddling with a car's software. Security researchers are crying foul because the rules as they stand effectively outlaw not just hacker hijackers but also legitimate tinkering with engine and dashboard electronics. The …

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Oh dear lord, more fecking idiots writing laws on stuff they have no clue. Can we make them go sit in the "Stupid Corner" with Feinstein and her ilk? Luckily that law would only apply in Michigan. But monkey see, monkey do, other states will be right behind them.

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We're going to need a bigger corner soon...

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Politicians write laws on things of which they have no clue all the time. Nearly all of the laws they make on any topic are like this!

It's been said that when all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail, and the legislator's hammer is the making of laws. No matter what the issue, they just know that the world will be better if they make some laws about it, whether they truly understand it or not (and it's almost always not). Does anyone really think politicians have better understanding of things they make policy about other than tech? The only skill that we know most politicians have is the ability to manipulate people, as that's how they were elected in the first place. Anything else? They seldom understand any of it-- and they don't know (or care) that they don't understand it, which is what makes them even more dangerous.

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"They seldom understand any of it-- and they don't know (or care) that they don't understand it, which is what makes them even more dangerous." -- Updraft102 [my emph]

This is the key point. Nobody expects legislators to be experts in everything. The truly worrying this is that they have so many resources at their disposal to learn the things they need to know, and so much facility to consult, and so many of them still behave like this.

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"Nobody expects legislators to be experts in everything. The truly worrying this is that they have so many resources at their disposal to learn the things they need to know, and so much facility to consult"

and yet they choose not to listen to those they could, listening only to focus groups & journalists .. and its so daft it could only be either a deliberate choice or the sort of incompetence that should see them in court ... and as far as expertise in anything goes, it's clearly lacking ....but these two are hardly the only politicians to be like ghats, are they. ... idiots .....

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Facepalm

Doh

Ignoring the absurdly wide scope of the law for the moment, wouldn't it be more sensible to make the law prevent manufacturers from selling cars with glaring security holes in them in the first place.

It would be somewhat easier to enforce, since there are far fewer manufacturers than hackers, and they know who they all are and where they live.

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I don't know what's worse. When the numpty congress critters write the stupid legislation or when they let the lobbyists write it. Of course if it gets a snappy title then every one of them will vote for it without reading it as happened with the Patriot Act to name just one.

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Coat

"We're going to need a bigger corner soon..."

Just send them off to the four corners of the Earth.

Being an oblate spheroid, it might take them some time to find the first one.

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Car lobby?

Wondering how strong the car lobby is in that state? Wonder if this is just the latest tactic in the claim by some nitwits that since the car has software, you don't actually own it but are only licensing it, and they can therefore tell you what to do with it, when, and how?

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150421/23581430744/gm-says-that-while-you-may-own-your-car-it-owns-software-it-thanks-to-copyright.shtml

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Re: Car lobby?

Seems Detroit, Michigan was the auto manufacturing capital of the US at one time...

;)

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Re: Car lobby?

Well, the Detroit area is still home to the Big 3 as they have their main office there. I think some of the foreign car makers have put their US Headquarters there also. So yes, there's probably just a wee bit of lobbying going on....

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Re: Car lobby?

"there's probably just a wee bit of lobbying going on.."

Of course: you can almost here the conversation among the Car execs?

"if any potential competition is going to rely on self-driving or just "clever" cars, let's cripple the scope for creativity & innovation in the automotive software sector ..... go find me a politician who is gullible enough to fall for it ..."

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Re: Car lobby?

let's cripple the scope for creativity & innovation in the automotive software sector ....

The driver for this is (as you'd expect) money. Even now, there's optional extras that are enabled through software (such as those rather pointless "steering" foglights. My VW group car has foglights, all the necessary sensors and switching, but because I didn't pay for that option, the configuration file has something along the lines of "steeringfoglighten=nicht". Some enthusiasts have hacked the software and it can be made to turn on this facility, and other things that VW want people to pay for. My favourite absurdity is that the rear foglights are in the clusters on eacdh side. But even though the wiring is there, the reflector is there, even a bulb is fitted, the nearside foglight is disabled through software on the cheaper variants.

And the car makers are worried that in future more and more capability will be standard on the car (to reduce component count and production complexity) and enabled or disabled through software configuration. But even though the buyers will have paid for all the parts, if they haven't "paid" for the right to have the capability turned on, the makers want to make sure they can't enable it.

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Re: Car lobby?

@Ledswinger

Dual rear red foglamps are called 'Brake Lights'.

I've followed cars with such hacks. They're annoying and dangerous.

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Re: Car lobby?

Some options can be disallowed by statute and will be locked out for vehicles sold into those regions. I find it handy that the wiring, connectors and other fittings are in place even if an option isn't installed. A quick trip to the junk yard and I can buy the missing components for a pittance compared to what I would have been charged for the "package" of options I would have had to get for the one thing that I might find useful. It makes a lot of sense for auto manufacturers to have all of the wiring and connections in place since the added cost is very low, it decreases parts counts and dealers can fit many of the options to suit a buyer.

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Re: Car lobby?

@jeffypooh The reason for all your downvotes is that you're factually incorrect. It's not a hack, it's a perfectly normal set of rear fogs. There are rules about the placement deliberately to prevent confusion with brake lamps.

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Re: Car lobby?

Thank you for the attempted explanation.

I've a Mercedes E-class; the single rear fog lamp is immediately adjacent to the left (Canada) brake light. If I had dual rear fog lights, there's no 'placement' distinction at all from the brake lites. The *only* distinction would be the middle 3rd Brake light, but that's not trustworthy due to older cars not having it. Keep in mind the fog.

The Child-driven Owner-modified (often-BuMWipes) that I've seen with dual rear brake lights similarly had no distinctive placement. The dual rear fog lights were indistinguishable from brake lights. The symmetry was pleasing, but the overall effect was negative.

Please keep in mind that I'm referring to owner-installed symmetry-enhancing additional bulb hacks.

They're immediately adjacent to the brake lights. There's no 'placement'.

YMMV.

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Re: Car lobby?

A quick trip to the junk yard and I can buy the missing components for a pittance....

For a car using yesterday's technology yes. But modern cars increasingly use Canbus electrical systems. This controls how things work, and it does stop retrofit of certain parts. So I can buy the car new with LED lights as an expensive option, or Xenon headlights, but if I retrofit the parts (junkyard or brand new from the dealer) the system will as a minimum persistently nag me that I have a failed bulb, or simply refuse to operate the "unknown" piece of kit.

To be fair, there's some considerable upside in the overall package of the best modern cars (safer, faster, more economical, more reliable, more comfortable, less maintenance), but the price of that does appear to be that the owner has less opportunity to tinker. And coming back to the original point, you pay for something, but there's an extra charge to use it.

Another example is the ECU mapping. More than a few vehicles use ECU mapping to offer different performance from the same engine. The buyer of the cheap variants aren't allowed to access the higher performance. On older models you could have the car "chipped" to remap the ECU, but now that's far more difficult as the electronics are more complex and more integrated. You might say that chipping was a bad thing (insurance, emissions, safety) but that's not the issue - I'm just pointing up another example where you pay for something, but you only get to use it if you've paid extra for it to be configured as "on".

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Re: Car lobby?

"This controls how things work, and it does stop retrofit of certain parts. So I can buy the car new with LED lights as an expensive option, or Xenon headlights, but if I retrofit the parts (junkyard or brand new from the dealer) the system will as a minimum persistently nag me that I have a failed bulb, or simply refuse to operate the "unknown" piece of kit."

That's what "recoding" software is for *ahem* "allegedly".

Also, VW/Audi for example use QNX RTOS Getting into the guts of that is a piece of piss with a disk image, VirtualBox and a disassembler.

My A4 onboard computer is running quite happily (and faster!) with an IDE->mSata conversion that I can replace for pennies instead of a 2nd mortgage to VAG in the case of failure.

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Re: Car lobby?

"Wondering how strong the car lobby is in that state?" etc,

yeah, maybe THIS is the new 'D.R.M.'.

And once again, laws like *THIS* don't stop crime, they just unnecessarily impede the otherwise-law-abiding.

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Black Helicopters

Precedent

Need to have legal precedent set before self-driving cars can be sold publicly - can't have terrorists disabling critical safety features such as remote control for the 'Safe Emergency Vehicle Brake and Lock' software for Public Safety Officers...

If you wear a full set of medieval armor on a daily basis, does it qualify for tin foil hat membership?

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Re: Precedent

No, because the armor's made of steel, not tin, which according to conspiracy theorists means it's MORE receptive to brainwaves rather than less. Meanwhile, I wouldn't want to be in that armor in the middle of the summer.

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Re: Precedent

Of course, most tin-foil is actually made out of aluminium... /pedant

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Re: Precedent

No, if it's made of aluminum, it's aluminum foil. Tin foil MUST be made of tin or it's false advertising (and that's why you never see the term in America--aluminum was basically perfected here in the late 19th century so tin foil never really took root). Besides, like I said, you MUST go tin or bust. ONLY tin blocks the brainwaves according to them.

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Re: Precedent

Tin foil MUST be made of tin or it's false advertising

Unless it's actually TiN foil, of course.

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They appear to be mixing up using electronics to disable the car dangerously when somebody else is driving (which might count as attempted or actual murder, things that are already illegal and very serious)

with using the electronics to vandalize or steal a car (which are also already illegal, but are much less serious crimes.) Maybe life in prison is justified for wrecking a moving car; hot-wiring a car to steal it doesn't have any justification for more serious penalties than any other method of stealing a car.

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Anonymous Coward

Steal/knick/hot-wire 3 cars

go to jail for life, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

How long will it be before prosecutors (who delight is proclaiming to the press that they will press for the maximum life sentence even for jaywalking) cotton on to the fact that stealing a car is in violation of this law. Any law that has a possible life term is subject to the 3-strikes rule and an automatic life sentence is passed. IANAL etc but these idiots who get elected need to be humanely put down ASAP.

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Re: Steal/knick/hot-wire 3 cars

Trouble is, what do they do when the prisons get overcrowded, no one has the stomach to build a new prison (due to tax or NIMBY issues), and the Federal Bureau of Prisons is due to come knocking soon?

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Re: Steal/knick/hot-wire 3 cars

That's an easy one. They hire it out. Contract prisons are a big thing these days since they aren't subject to the red tape that a municipality would be required to go through and they could likely get tax breaks for bringing jobs into an area. It's one of the reasons that minimum sentencing guidelines are always on the increase as the lobbyists know the "tough on crime" package sells well with voters and if a congress critter isn't going to play ball his opponent in the next election will. The Incarceration Industrial Complex has become a huge problem in the U.S.

Here's just one example.

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@ Bill Stewart

"which might count as attempted or actual murder,....."

That raises the point of why do we need yet another pointless law? In most jurisdictions, if you made ANY modification to a vehicle which differed from standard, and the result caused death or injury, do you think that the lack of a specific law outlawing said modification would prevent you from being charged with murder/manslaughter etc?

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Serious stupidity

These two yahoos are well beyond Congress critter levels of stupidity. The problem that everyone is concerned about is the insecure wifi/bluetooth/etc. rf connections in many cars not owners modifying the code. The correct solution is for the automakers to fix the security issues not to pass an idiot law that even the dimmest Congress critter would run from.

To extend Mark Twain - God created idiots for practice, then He created school boards - still for practice, then perfection of stupidity God create the Michigan legislature. I think Mark would approve.

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It's an investment ....

.... to prevent this in the future:

"... which caused the car company to recall 1.4 million vehicles for a software upgrade ..."

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Trollface

Future Global Laws

Seeing as US laws apply to everyone on the planet (their thinking), what happens when somebody torrents a method of car control (10 years in UK) and hacks a car in 'merica? Is that instant death penalty? This is the new global punishment escalator. Looking forward to the brave new frontier.

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Flame

what of the home mechanic and the professional garage?

So any one that uses a tool to diagnose issues using an odm port would be illegal? What of aftermarket alarm systems and immobilisers?

They're really thinking on going there? Do they not understand how these tools work for the benefit of the free market economy? (just talking the language they might understand).

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Re: what of the home mechanic and the professional garage?

I would think the OEMs will be ecstatic Now EVERYTHING has to go through the dealer, with them getting a cut and all.

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Re: go through the dealer

Nope. The word "unauthorised" is right at the end of the list, just before "access", so the preceeding actions are forbidden absolutely. That is, as quoted in the article, the law would prohibit anyone from modifying the electronics in any way.

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>> "I hope that we never have to use it," said Kowall. "That's why the penalties are what they are."

By that stellar logic, the penalty for everything should be summary execution.

Incidentally, what's the penalty for proposing stupid laws...?

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"By that stellar logic, the penalty for everything should be summary execution."

Dracon, archon of Athens, beat you to it by about 2600 years; hence the word "draconian".

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"Incidentally, what's the penalty for proposing stupid laws...?"

Wasn't there a story of a Greek city-state where anyone wanting to propose a new law had to attend the council with the noose with which he would be hanged if the proposal didn't get enough votes?

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Summary Execution

In Star Trek the next generation there was a planet where the death penalty was used for everything. Wesley Crusher tasted that justice first hand for falling on some flowers. Maybe these law makers are fans?

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Re: Summary Execution

Not the first or last example. What you're seeing is termed "Absolute Justice," meaning there is only one punishment, not to mention it makes for great population control. It's all over fiction.

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Re: Summary Execution

"In Star Trek the next generation there was a planet where the death penalty was used for everything. Wesley Crusher tasted that justice first hand for falling on some flowers. Maybe these law makers are fans?"

In Wesley Crusher's case, it was the right punishment, but for the wrong reasons.

I mean, seriously, what a dick.

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Anonymous Coward

"By that stellar logic, the penalty for everything should be summary execution."

When they then don't get enough convictions to trumpet about - they follow two paths: lower the threshold of evidence and/or redefine the criteria to cover more nebulous conditions.

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Emergency services?

Are they going to add a clause to exempt accessing the electronics to get someone out of a burning vehicle? Unconscious drivers cannot give authorisation after all.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Emergency services?

Interesting point, maybe what we need is to have a blanket "Good Samaritan" exemption for the emergency services.

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Re: Emergency services?

Oh. Why lug around a heavy set of hydraulic jaws when you could use a laptop?

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How about, instead...

... passing a law that prosecutes dumb executives for putting flashy bells and whistles and other nonsense, such as allowing your car's software to be altered remotely, over simple basic bloody security?!

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Re: How about, instead...

No, because the executives are rich enough to give acceptable bribes, including bribed to overlook charges of bribery.

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Read the PDF

The addition to the bill says, "ACCESS ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS OF MOTOR VEHICLE TO OBTAIN DATA OR CONTROL OF VEHICLE".

Nothing about illegally, unlawfully, etc. IANAL but wouldn't that cover just driving the flipping thing? I believe they are proposing to make it illegal to drive your own car (unless of course it has no electronics, so your Stanley Steamer is safe).

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Imprisonment culture?

Today I propose lifetime imprisonment for jaywalking.

"I hope that we never have to use it," said Kowall. "That's why the penalties are what they are. The potential for severe injury and death are pretty high."

Millions of people that parked on the other side of roads without marked crosswalks will thank me for my legislative foresight.

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