Senate bill would secure the ‘internet of things,’ from cars to fridges

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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday is introducing legislation to address vulnerabilities in computing devices embedded in everyday objects — known in the tech industry as the “internet of things” — which experts have long warned poses a threat to global cybersecurity and which has made several recent hacking events all too easy.

Reports of thieves using laptops to steal cars have persisted for years, and white-hat research into hacking cars goes back at least to a 2010 study at the University of Washington. The biggest real-world example surfaced last year when a pair of hackers in Houston were accused of using FCA software on a laptop to steal vehicles, mostly Jeeps, that were spirited away across the Mexican border. Possibly 100 vehicles were stolen this way.

Nissan had to suspend its Leaf smartphone app for a time, as did GM with its OnStar app, which got some notoriety when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) used the app to hack a Chevy Impala for 60 MInutes.

In 2015, cybersecurity researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller accessed critical vehicle controls on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee via the infotainment system. This allowed the pair, without physical access to the vehicle, to remotely disable the brakes, turn the radio volume up, engage the windshield wipers, and tamper with the transmission, measure its speed and track its location. The hack prompted Fiat Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles.

Security researchers say the ballooning array of online devices including vehicles, household appliances, and medical equipment are not adequately protected from hackers. A 2016 cyberattack was facilitated when hackers conscripted the “internet of things” into a “zombie army” of devices that flooded servers with web traffic in what’s known as a “distributed denial of service.”

The new bill would require vendors who provide internet-connected equipment to the U.S. government to ensure their products are patchable and conform to industry security standards. It would also prohibit vendors from supplying devices that have unchangeable passwords or possess known security vulnerabilities.

Republicans Cory Gardner and Steve Daines and Democrats Mark Warner and Ron Wyden are sponsoring the legislation, which was drafted with input from technology experts at the Atlantic Council and Harvard University. A Senate aide who helped write the bill said that companion legislation in the House was expected soon.

“We’re trying to take the lightest touch possible,” Warner said. He added that the legislation was intended to remedy an “obvious market failure” that has left device manufacturers with little incentive to build with security in mind.

The legislation would allow federal agencies to ask the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for permission to buy some non-compliant devices if other controls, such as network segmentation, are in place.

It would also expand legal protections for cyber researchers working in “good faith” to hack equipment to find vulnerabilities so manufacturers can patch previously unknown flaws.

Between 20 billion and 30 billion devices are expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, researchers estimate, with a large percentage of them insecure.

Though security for the internet of things has been a known problem for years, some manufacturers say they are not well equipped to produce cyber secure devices.

Hundreds of thousands of insecure webcams, digital records and other everyday devices were hijacked last October to support a major attack on internet infrastructure that temporarily knocked some web services offline, including Twitter, PayPal and Spotify.

The new legislation includes “reasonable security recommendations” that would be important to improve protection of federal government networks, said Ray O’Farrell, chief technology officer at cloud computing firm VMware.

Reporting by Dustin Volz. Background information from Autoblog was included.

Police car makes dramatic entrance to break up a bar fight

This Facebook video posted over the weekend shows an overly enthusiastic police response to what has all the classic signs of a bar fight — bloke explaining himself to a cop, another yob yelling and gesturing in a bloodied shirt. This all happened early Sunday morning in Kent, England.

The driver clearly was coming in too hot for the wet pavement. The bad part, obviously, is the car barely avoided striking a number of people on the sidewalk. On the bright side, the cruiser wound up perfectly parked. Though they may want to drop it off at the shop for an alignment.

Bill speeding deployment of self-driving cars clears next hurdle in Congress

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An influential U.S. House committee on Thursday approved a revised bipartisan bill on a 54-0 vote that would speed the deployment of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles.

The bill would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.

Automakers and technology companies believe chances are good Congress will approve legislation before year end. They have been pushing for regulations making it easier to deploy self-driving technology, while consumer groups have sought more safeguards. Current federal rules bar self-driving cars without human controls on U.S. roads and automakers think proposed state rules in California are too restrictive.

The measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to regulators, but would not require pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies.

The House of Representatives will take up the bill when it reconvenes in September, while senators plan to introduce a separate similar measure.

“Our aim was to develop a regulatory structure that allows for industry to safely innovate with significant government oversight,” said Representative Greg Walden, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Initially, authors proposed to allow automakers and others to sell up to 100,000 vehicles immediately. Representative Frank Pallone said the phase-in period was essential so “millions of exempted cars will not hit our roads all at once.”

Manufacturers must demonstrate self-driving cars winning exemptions are at least as safe as existing vehicles.

Under the House proposal, states could still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but could not set self-driving car performance standards.

Automakers praised committee passage, while Consumer Watchdog privacy director John Simpson said preempting state laws “leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories.”

General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc, Tesla Inc , Volkswagen AG and others have been lobbying for legislation to speed deployment of self-driving cars. Consumer advocates want more changes, including giving the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration quicker access to crash data and more funding to oversee self-driving cars.

The issue has taken on new urgency since U.S. road deaths rose 7.7 percent in 2015, the highest annual jump since 1966.

Automakers say that without changes in regulations, U.S. self-driving car testing could move to Europe and elsewhere.

[Source: Autoblog]

New car smell? Ford’s ‘golden noses’ know the Chinese don’t want that

While Western drivers like the “new car smell” fresh off the production line, Chinese would rather their cars didn’t smell of anything – a cultural divide that’s testing carmakers seeking an edge in the world’s biggest auto market.

At Ford, for example, 18 smell assessors – dubbed “golden noses” – at its research plant outside the eastern city of Nanjing test the smell of each material that goes inside a Ford car to be sold in China and around Asia.

The China smell test isn’t unique, but illustrates the lengths automakers go to attract buyers in markets where consumer attitudes vary widely.

“In North America, people want a new car smell and will even buy a ‘new car’ spray to make older cars feel new and fresh. In China it’s the opposite,” says Andy Pan, supervisor for material engineering at the Ford facility, which employs around 2,300 people.

The smell of a new car in China can have an outsized effect. A J.D. Power report last year showed that unpleasant car smells were the top concern for Chinese drivers, ahead of engine issues, road noise or fuel consumption.

The smell assessors at Ford, whose China sales are down 7 percent this year, carry out 300 tests a year, a third more than their counterparts in Europe. They rate the odor of all materials used in a car from “not perceptible” to “extremely disturbing.”

Pungent materials – from carpets to seat covers and steering wheels – are noted as smelling of anything from “burnt tire” and “bad meat” to “mothballs” or “dirty socks.” Some are sent back to the supplier.

Seats for Ford cars in China are stored in perforated cloth bags to keep them ventilated before being installed, as opposed to plastic wrapping in the U.S. market where consumers are less concerned about chemical smells.

“The smell inside the car can often be pretty pungent,” said Tom Lin, a 24-year-old high-school teacher in Zhejiang province, who bought a local Roewe brand car last October. He said there was still a bit of an odor six months later.

“With the next car I buy, I’m going to take more care to check out any odd smells,” he said.

EXTRA EDGE

To be sure, smell is just one factor for automakers to get right in China, where picky buyers are always looking for fresh car models and Beijing is making a big drive toward new-energy vehicles.

In a slower market – consultancy IHS forecasts vehicle sales will slip slightly this year – firms are looking for an extra edge to appeal to consumers, beyond price discounts, says IHS analyst James Chao.

Local rivals Geely Automobile and BYD Co Ltd tout their in-car air filters to protect drivers from China’s harmful air pollution, and BMW says it is adding larger touch screens and tweaking colors to appeal to Chinese buyers.

Smell is key, though, reflecting a wider concern in China about chemicals and pollution.

“When I lived in the United States, I might look at the suspension or the engine,” said Don Yu, China general manager at CGT, which makes materials to cover car seats and dashboards for General Motors, Volkswagen and Ford.

“In China, though, people open the car and sit inside. If the smell isn’t good enough, they think it will jeopardize their health.”

For Ford’s “golden noses,” that means a strict routine. Testers undergo a tough selection process, proving themselves on blind smell tests before being chosen.

“We have to have very healthy habits; we can’t smoke, we can’t drink,” says one of the team, 33-year-old Amy Han, adding she avoids spicy food and doesn’t wear nail polish, strong perfume or even a leather jacket to keep her sense of smell sharp.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan.

[Source: Autoblog]

An early gas-electric hybrid was developed by…Exxon?

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We’re not sure which aspect of Exxon’s 1970s-era efforts to develop advanced and electrified powertrains is the most ironic. There’s Exxon, that of the Valdez oil spill infamy, being on the leading edge of hybrids and electric vehicles. There’s a boat-like Chrysler Cordova getting 27 miles per gallon. And there’s the central role a Volkswagen diesel engine plays in that hybrid development. It’s all outlined in an article (linked above) by Inside Climate News, and it’s an amusing read.

Flush with cash and fearing what it thought was peak oil production in the 1970s, Exxon funded a host of new ventures divisions geared to find alternatives to gas-powered powertrains. In the early 1970s, Exxon lured chemist M. Stanley Whittingham to develop what would become a prototype of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

Then, in the late 1970s, Exxon pioneered the concept of using an alternating-current (AC) motor as part of a gas-electric hybrid vehicle. The company retrofitted a Chrysler Cordova (yes, that’s the model Ricardo Montalban used to hawk) with a powertrain that combined 10 Sears Die-Hard car batteries, an alternating current synthesizer (ACS), a 100-horsepower AC motor, and, yes, a four-cylinder 50-horsepower Volkswagen diesel engine. The result was a rather large two-door sedan that got an impressive 27 mpg. And while US automakers didn’t see the potential in the early concept, in 1980 Exxon and Toyota began collaborating on a project that would involve retrofitting a Toyota Cressida with a hybrid engine. That car was completed in 1981, and may have been one of the seeds that eventually helped sprout the concept of the Toyota Prius.

Soon after rebuilding the Cressida, Exxon would get out of the advanced-powertrain-development business, as oil prices began to fall in the early 1980s, spurring cost-cutting measures. Cry no tears for the Exxon, though, as what’s now known as ExxonMobil is the largest US oil company.

Watch Englishman get hit by a bus, stand up, walk into a pub

A man in Reading, England, was sent flying after being struck by a city bus. In a totally understandable move, he got up, dusted himself off, and walked straight into a pub where he’s been drinking for 20 years. Unfortunately, the pub wasn’t yet open. Watch the whole thing on the video above.

The Telegraph reports that Simon Smith is recovering from injuries after being knocked about 20 feet when a Reading bus swung wide, jumped the curb, and plowed into him. In addition to hitting Smith, the bus took out a good portion of the front of the pub, The Purple Turtle.

The video shows the bus come in far too hot around a right-hand turn. Smith turned to look just before being hit. The bus has been parked, and the driver has been taken off the road while the accident is being investigated.

The extent of Smith’s injuries isn’t clear, but it was initially misreported. Emergency workers first thought he was hit by debris, not the bus itself. Smith’s wife says he’s in pain but is expected to recover.

[Source: Autoblog]

Six Quick Tips For A Cleaner Interior | Autoblog Details

Keeping your interior clean is easier than you might think. Follow these tips found in this video to keep your car looking new all year round. These inexpensive and disposable covers are perfect for protecting your seat and steering wheel for those cringe-worthy moments. They store easily in the seat back pouch or armrest, and are installed in seconds. Perfect for dropping your car off at the mechanics or after a day of dirty work.

And added benefit is your mechanic will think you’re nuts, and less likely to leave greasy hand prints everywhere as he’ll know you’ll be looking. Rubber mats prevent dirt, mud, spills, and oil from penetrating your carpet on a daily basis. Constant shampooing, scrubbing, and vacuuming will wear out the carpet fibers and destroy the mat quickly. Rubber mats absorb our daily abuse, and can quickly be tapped out or washed with soap and water, dried, and reinstalled in seconds. Every car should have a moving blanket in their trunk.

This should be used whenever carrying heavy, sharp, or odd shaped items in your trunk or back seat, and especially when Fido needs to visit the vet. The blanket can also be used as a drop cloth in case you need to get under your car on the side of the road for a repair. This will keep your clothes clean and minimize the chance of getting your seats dirty. Once a spill or stain occurs, speed is the best remedy. Don’t wait, pull over and address the issue quickly. Keep two to three microfiber towels in your arm rest or trunk with an interior cleaner.

Allowing the spill time to penetrate and dry will only make the future cleaning more difficult. Keeping your tools nearby will prevent a small issue from becoming a big stain. We can all agree the most obvious dirt within the interior of the care is the floor mat. Our shoes pick up little rocks, dirt, and mud, then we deposit them on the floor within two seconds of getting in our freshly vacuumed interior, which drives car people crazy.

Developing the habit of quickly tapping your feet before entering your car will decrease the level of dirt on your floor by 60 to 70%, prolonging the life of your carpet. Keep a pair of gloves and hand sanitizer in your arm rest or glove box in case you need to change a flat, check your oil, or need to freshen up before touching your steering wheel. As commuters, we spend a good portion of our day on the inside of the car. That new car feeling of a spotless interior makes it much more enjoyable.

[Source: Autoblog]