Oakland Press: Auto hacking bills pass during Cyber Security Awareness Month

Sen. Mike Kowall

Sen. Mike Kowall

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

It is becoming increasingly difficult to watch the news without hearing about the latest massive computer hack, whether the victim be a Fortune 500 company or a government entity.

State government computers face an increased number of cyber security threats. The state of Michigan blocks more than 650,000 cyber attacks daily.

On top of that, the state blocks 2.5 million web browser attacks, 5.2 million intrusions, 79.5 million network scams, and 179.5 million http-based attacks.

Because the state of Michigan realizes that it has a vital role in identifying, protecting and responding to cyber threats that may have significant impact on our individual and collective security and privacy, Gov. Rick Snyder has declared October 2016 as Cyber Security Awareness Month in Michigan.

Cyber Security Awareness Month seeks to increase the understanding of cyber threats and empower residents to be safer and more secure online.

Initiatives such as this and others have made our state a national leader in cyber security.

Programs such as Protect Mi Child help keep our kids safe while online. The initiative works to prevent, detect and respond to cyber threats, and regular simulated exercises help keep Michigan secure and at the forefront. Visit www.ProtectMiChild.com to learn more.

In addition to attacks on private and government computers, we are now vulnerable to cyberattacks to our cars and trucks. In 2015, security experts at Wired magazine remotely hacked into a 2014 Jeep Cherokee’s “Uconnect infotainment” system while the Jeep was being driven. Not only were the hackers able to control the interior features of the car, such as air conditioning, locks and the radio, but they disabled the SUV’s engine functions as well.

Computers now often control such vital operations as a car’s acceleration and braking. Cyberattacks on these systems threaten our security and safety. We must make sure we do all we can to protect our cars and trucks from such attacks, including updating the law to address these new crimes.

The Michigan Senate recently passed Senate Bills 927 and 928. SB 927, which I sponsored, would specify that it is a crime to damage a vehicle’s computer system or gain unauthorized control of a vehicle. SB 928, sponsored by Sen. Ken Horn, would provide sentencing guidelines for these crimes.

SBs 927 and 928 provide important tools that our state and local law enforcement and prosecutors can use immediately to punish bad actors. Other sanctions will be coming at the federal level and other deterrents through the efforts of the auto and technology industries. Passage of these bills can be a forerunner for those actions and can send a strong signal that the advancement of the technology will also be linked to strong public protection.

It’s important to note that the bills do not intend to penalize those engaged in innocent activities such as car maintenance or legitimate university or corporate research. The goal of the legislation is to take appropriate actions available to the state Legislature to provide public assurance of security. These bills will help in that regard and in the larger goal of advancing this important and useful technology.

Hacking into a vehicle’s computer information system poses a significant threat to the security and safety of the auto’s driver and to the safety of others. We must take this threat seriously and enact laws to help prevent these crimes.

To learn more about cyber security and to put that knowledge into practice in your home, vehicles, school, workplace or business, visit michigan.gov/CyberSecurity and www.stopthinkconnect.org.

This column first appeared in the Oakland Press. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.