Jeep Flaw Not Reflected in Radios Supplied to Other Automakers, Harman Says

By Mark Clothier | August 4, 2015

Harman International Industries Inc., the maker of the audio system in the Jeep Cherokee that was hacked remotely, said the software flaw that allowed that incident isn’t in infotainment systems it supplies to other automakers.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked Harman for information on other audio systems that may be vulnerable to hacking, in an investigation opened July 29. Fiat Chrysler on July 24 announced a recall of about 1.4 million vehicles to update radio software.

“This experimental hack is unique to Chrysler,” Dinesh Paliwal, chief executive officer of Stamford, Connecticut-based Harman, said in an interview Tuesday. “This does not exist, to our assessment, in any other vehicle.”

Fiat Chrysler’s recall related to the radios was the first formal auto safety campaign in response to a cybersecurity threat. NHTSA has been under fire from Congress for not catching defects more quickly, after the industry last year set a record with 64 million autos called back for fixes.

Harman and its competitors supply infotainment technology and systems to the automakers, which modify them to suit their customers, Paliwal said. For more expensive vehicles, the automakers make more modifications. The Jeep hack was traced to a loophole in the internal cellular network that exposed the vehicle’s control area network, known as a CAN bus, he said.

Open Door

“Once people get in the car and get into the CAN bus, then you can start to mimic and mess up many, many things in the car,” Paliwal said. “It’s like having full security in your house and leaving the door open.”

Jeep Cherokee infotainment system. Photo: FCA US LLC
Jeep Cherokee infotainment system. Photo: FCA US LLC

In the Jeep incident, software programmers were able to take control of a Cherokee sport utility vehicle while it was being driven on a Missouri highway. The hackers got in through the SUV’s Uconnect infotainment system.

NHTSA said the Harman inquiry “is being opened to obtain information from the supplier of Chrysler Uconnect units to determine the nature and extent of similarities in other infotainment products provided to other vehicle manufacturers.

‘‘If sufficient similarities exist, the investigation will examine if there is cause for concern that security issues exist in other Harman Kardon products.’’

Harman on Tuesday also reported fiscal fourth-quarter profit of $1.37 a share, beating the $1.31 average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The company’s shares rose 2.6 percent to $112.81 at 11:02 a.m. in New York. The stock gained 3 percent this year through Monday.

(With assistance from Shobhana Chandra in Washington.)

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.