IoT Hackability as Mechanized Risk

The burgeoning market strategy to connect inanimate objects to one another over the Internet, in order to form an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT,) is more about connecting the next four billion products than it is about connecting the next four billion people. This is because rather than to provide access to people directly, it seeks to extend both the implementation of the medium (the web) and the definition of access, toward a mindset that treats objects as data-producing packet-switching participants, relegating human beings to the role of operators (not programmers.) As a way of thinking about communication technology, it aims to make living human lives easier, by connecting the various tools, appliances, infrastructure and vehicles that we use, in order to use Big Data both to form conclusions about how we use (in the general sense,) in the interest of honing in a commonality of human experience that can be improved upon. Since we are not creating these products ourselves, this usage data we contribute becomes the content of our communication in this feedback loop.

This poses a radical shift in feedback in that it exploits our sense of individual experience to arrive at generalized common denominators (for example, the notion that every person wants access to shelter, food, and clothing – air conditioning, dishwasher, and a car.) Furthermore, we graft the risks associated with each ‘connected’ (IoT) technology we use unto ourselves: in this relationship if the data security of our infrastructure is porous, then our own security is porous and therefore threatened by assessable risk. IoT is one way in which, as György Lukács (1885–1971) puts it, “capitalist reification brings about simultaneously an over-individualization and a mechanical objectification of people” (Peters 15). Enter the hackable automobile.

Although automobile technology once represented a bastion of relative autonomy – the ability to travel long distances by oneself, and simultaneously the ability to spin-out, roll-over, crash and kill oneself – in an otherwise pre-surveyed experience of space, once ‘connected’ by IoT this technology quickly embodies a dramatic loss of individual autonomy. OnStar, the company responsible for connecting crash-victims with medical and mechanical assistance, retains the ability to remotely shut down a personal vehicle if that driver has not been paying his/her debts (see NYT: “Miss a Payment? Good Luck Moving That Car.”) Intel recognizes 15 distinct automotive systems that can be hacked easily, wired or wirelessly (see Fortune: This Graphic Shows All The Ways Your Car Can Be Hacked.) These exploits, called “zero-day exploits,” are security flaws (risks) unknown to vendors before a third party points them out. When Andy Greenberg of WIRED Magazine decided to test these exploits, using himself as a crash-test dummy (a form of self-objectification,) he discovered in a real-life scenario that hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek were able to dial up his air conditioning, blast the music on his radio, lock him out of dashboard controls, turn on windshield wipers and fluid, hijack the car’s digital display, and cut the transmission of his Jeep mid-roll to effectively stop the car – all from 10 miles away.

Tests like this one (that occurred on July 21, 2015,) the likes of which most automobile manufacturers have been unable or unwilling to carry out, actually serve to improve the medium. On July 24, 2015 Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million cars in light of this Jeep hack. While it’s unclear what they will do to resolve the issue, it is clear from this interaction that risk of mechanical error, in a circumstance in which humans are made subordinate to a mechanical system, is grafted directly upon the implicated user. It demonstrates that making oneself into a programmer in these scenarios, rather than a complicit operator, defines the new individual autonomy.


These are the points of entry for vehicle hackers.

These are the points of entry for vehicle hackers.



NYT: DealBook, “Miss a Payment? Good Luck Moving That Car.”

Fortune: “This Graphic Shows All The Ways Your Car Can Be Hacked”

WIRED: “Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway – With Me In It”

Peters, John Durham. Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. 1999. Print. 15.

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