Remember KITT? KITT (the Knight Industries Two Thousand) was the self-directed, self-driving, supercomputer hero of the popular 1980s television show Knight Rider. Knight Rider was a science fiction fantasy profiling the “car of the future.” The self-directed car is science fiction no more. The future is now and, in fact, we’ve seen a lot of press this year about self-driving or driverless cars.

Driverless cars, equipped with a wide variety of connected systems including cameras, radar, sonar and LiDar (light detection and ranging), are expected on the road within the next few years. They can sense road conditions, identify hazards and negotiate traffic, all from a remote command center. Just as with most connected devices in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), these ultra-connected devices claim to improve efficiency and performance, and enhance safety.

Though not quite driverless yet, connected vehicles are already on the market, in-market and on the road. Like many IoT “things”, ultra-connected vehicles systems may be vulnerable to hacker attacks.

Christopher Valasek and Charlie Miller, two computer security industry leaders, have presented on this topic at various events, including the 2014 Black Hat USA security conference . They analyzed the information security vulnerabilities of various car makes and models, rating the vehicles on three specific criteria: (1) the area of their wireless “attack surface” (i.e., how many data incorporating features such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, keyless entry systems, automated tire monitoring systems); (2) access to the vehicles network through those data points; and (3) the vehicle’s “cyberphysical” features (i.e., connected features such as parking assist, automated braking, and other technological driving aides). This last category of features, combined with access through the data points outlined in items (1) and (2), presented a composite risk profile of each vehicle make’s hackability. Their conclusions were startling: radios, brakes, steering systems were all found to be accessible.

Miller and Valasek claim that their intent was to encourage car manufacturers to consider security in vehicle system connectivity and cyberphysical attributes. They approached vehicle manufacturers and shared their report with the Department of Transportation and the Society of Automobile Engineers. Some manufacturers promised to investigate their vehicle systems and correct the deficiencies. Some seemingly ignored the report altogether. They did, however, catch the attention of Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). On July 21, 2015, Senators Markey and Blumenthal introduced legislation that would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish federal standards to secure vehicles and protect drivers’ privacy. The Security and Privacy in Your Car Act, aptly coined “the SPY Car Act”, would also require manufacturers to establish a ‘cyber dashboard’ that rates vehicle security, informing consumers as to the security performance of their vehicle.

As proposed, the SPY Car Act would require that all motor vehicles manufactured in the U.S. be “equipped with reasonable measures to protect against hacking attacks.” All “entry points” are to be protected through “reasonable” measures against hacking. Internal networks are to be isolated to prevent hacking of the software managing critical vehicle controls, such as braking or steering. Vehicles would undergo a vulnerability analysis including penetration testing based on industry “best security practices.” Furthermore, “Any motor vehicle that presents an entry point shall be equipped with capabilities to immediately detect, report and stop attempts to intercept driving data or control the vehicle.”

The legislation, as well as the continued research efforts of experts such as Valasek and Miller, support the notion that today’s automobiles are not only transportation devices, but also sophisticated computer systems. And like any other computer system, the data processed through them is vulnerable to attack. The more “connected,” the system, the more entry points that are potentially exposed and arguably vulnerable. The “car of the future” is here and the experts and legislators seem to be pushing to keep consumer safety in the driver’s seat.