Security Experts:

Fiat Chrysler Recalls 1.4 Million Cars Following Jeep Hack

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has decided to recall 1.4 million vehicles after security researchers revealed that cars equipped with the Uconnect in-vehicle connectivity system can be remotely hijacked.

Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek demonstrated on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee that a remote attacker could leverage a vulnerability in Uconnect to hack into a car’s systems and perform various actions, from taking over the infotainment system to killing the engine and disabling the brakes.

FCA released a software update to address the vulnerability a few days before the researchers publicly disclosed their findings. The company initially advised customers to download and install the update themselves from a USB drive or take the car to a dealership.

However, the automaker announced on Friday that it’s conducting a voluntary safety recall to update software in roughly 1.4 million vehicles in the United States.

“The recall aligns with an ongoing software distribution that insulates connected vehicles from remote manipulation, which, if unauthorized, constitutes criminal action,” FCA said. “Further, FCA US has applied network-level security measures to prevent the type of remote manipulation demonstrated in a recent media report. These measures – which required no customer or dealer actions – block remote access to certain vehicle systems and were fully tested and implemented within the cellular network on July 23, 2015.”

The car maker has highlighted that it’s unaware of any real world incidents involving vehicles that have been remotely hacked. The recall is being conducted out of an abundance of caution, the company said.

“The software manipulation addressed by this recall required unique and extensive technical knowledge, prolonged physical access to a subject vehicle and extended periods of time to write code,” Fiat Chrysler noted.

According to the manufacturer, the vulnerability affects certain vehicles equipped with 8.4-inch touchscreen systems, which are only available for cars sold in the United States. The following models are impacted:

  • 2013-2015 MY Dodge Viper specialty vehicles
  • 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups
  • 2013-2015 Ram 3500, 4500, 5500 Chassis Cabs
  • 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Cherokee SUVs
  • 2014-2015 Dodge Durango SUVs
  • 2015 MY Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans
  • 2015 Dodge Challenger sports coupes

Car owners affected by this recall will be provided a USB device that they can use to perform the software update, which also includes additional security features. The software update page on the Uconnect website can be used to determine if a certain vehicle is included in the recall based on its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

This is not the first time Valasek and Miller hacked a car, but it’s the first time they managed to do it remotely. The experts said that the goal of their research is to raise awareness of the risks associated with connected cars, and get manufacturers to treat software security seriously.

In an interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Wednesday, Valasek pointed out that remote attacks on cars are not easy to pull off -- they have been working on vehicle hacking for the past three years, and they spent an entire year on the Jeep research alone.

"I'm more afraid of someone texting and driving and running into me than I am of someone hacking my car," Valasek said.

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.