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State senators want life in jail for hacking a car's software

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May 2, 2016

Two state senators in Michigan have proposed a set of new laws that would condemn hackers to life imprisonment for hacking into a car's control software.

As they stand today, the current rules outlaw not just hijackers but also legitimate tinkering with engine and dashboard electronics.

The two bills were proposed by Mike Kowall and Ken Horn. The draft rules state that anyone who repeatedly attempts to "intentionally access or cause access to be made to an electronic system of a motor vehicle to willfully destroy, damage, impair, alter or gain unauthorized control of the motor vehicle," faces life in prison.

"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 very high, and we don't have any choice but to impose these stiff penalties."

The proposed laws spell doom for a promising area of security research into car hacking in Michigan. Vehicle security has become a major topic of concern in the IT community.

2015's Black Hat and DefCon conventions were filled with interesting ways to hack our vehicles, and that sent some frightening messages to Congressmen.

Charlie Miller, one of the hackers who pulled off last year's hacking of a Chrysler Jeep Renegade which caused the car company to recall 1.4 million vehicles for a software upgrade, immediately pointed out some of the security issues the new law would cause.

One being that simply driving your car around town may be enough to fall foul of the legalese.

Also, you can forget about customizing your vehicle with extra gadgets and firmware updates, since those would also be outlawed.

Car hacking is a huge area of concern, since the latest cars are basically computer networks with an engine and 4 wheels attached to them-- computers on weels.

All car manufacturers are worried about the specter of in-car hacking, but it took Detroit to come up with a new law that criminalizes even researching the issue.

It's the same kind of thinking that encouraged the U.S. Department of Justice to propose a sneaky rule change that would allow police to get blanket warrants allowing them to hack any computer in the world.

Or the so-called 'Feinstein-Burr' bill that bans web browsers and file compression. Like electricity and water, politicians and technology never blend well, and the suggested Michigan laws are another example of this.

Source: Mike Kowall, United States senator.

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