Hackable Chryslers need a software update

car software

Welcome to a future where cars -- like computers -- need urgent software updates.

Now that we know Chryslers can be hacked over the Internet, car owners have two options to fix them.

One, take your Chrysler to the auto dealer. Or two, download the update to a USB flash drive, plug it into your car yourself, and hope for the best.

Chrysler explained to CNNMoney that the software patch plugs a hole that unknowingly granted outside access to car controls.

"Similar to a smartphone or tablet, vehicle software can require updates for improved security protection," the company said.

But read that carefully. Your car is like a tablet.

We're about to witness a glimpse at the annoying future of smart, connected cars. You know those those frequent updates that come to your laptop, smartphone and apps? They're coming to your automobile.

You can ignore them -- until some car maker starts making it mandatory. But keep in mind: Right now, if you're currently driving a 2014 Jeep Cherokee without the latest update, hackers can cut your brakes while you're on the highway.

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This Chrysler episode shows that some car makers haven't yet figured this out the way Apple (AAPL, Tech30) or Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) already have. You never take your laptop into a store. You just click "OK" and download it from the Internet.

Tesla (TSLA) stands out as forward-thinking. You just hook up your car to Wi-Fi (or a cellular network), then download it directly to the car. In March, that's how Tesla pushed out the latest version of its Tesla operating system 6.2 to its Model S sedans. It added new feature: tracking nearby charging stations.

But even then, this software update takes a whopping 45 minutes to complete, according to the company. You can't operate the car while it's updating.

These are called "over-the-air" updates, and they're all the rage in the auto industry right now. BMW does the same thing. As do GM (GM) cars equipped with OnStar.

Expect more of this. Auto suppliers and car makers have plans to constantly be able to tinker with your vehicle. The benefit? Fewer auto recalls, quick fixes for software glitches, car apps that are always improving.

Ed Adams is a researcher at Security Innovation, a company that tests the safety of automobiles. He said several car makers are now working on their own app stores.

The downside: Possible long waits at home without a working car. As an alternative, can you update while driving without worrying about the car shutting off? And updates sometimes make computers buggy. Will it be unsafe to drive?

We'll see.

Hackers control car's steering and brakes
Hackers control car's steering and brakes

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