NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU - Get Report) is sending software updates to owners of Jeep Cherokees and other late-model FCA cars and pickup trucks in a bid to tighten security against remote meddling with the vehicle's operation.
FCA's action, initiated last week shortly before the appearance of an article in Wired magazine demonstrating how hackers interfered with a 2014 Cherokee, reflects rising concerns from automakers and authorities that vehicles with the latest digital features may be vulnerable to cybercrime.
An orchestrated hacking, albeit for journalistic purposes, underscores the complex security, safety and privacy issues faced by developers of autonomous driving systems, which rely heavily on sensors, computers, software, artificial intelligence and communication between vehicles.
FCA isn't the first automaker to face the reality of hacking. In early 2015, BMW (BAMXY) acknowledged that it closed a security flaw, discovered by the German motorist association, that would allow a hacker to unlock the doors on some of its cars.
Fiat Chrysler, whose main headquarters is in Auburn Hills, Mich., noted in a blog published Wednesday that "well-known hackers Charlie Millers and Chris Valasek" collaborated with the magazine to show how some functions on Miller's 2014 Cherokee, equipped with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, could be controlled remotely. FCA acknowledged that it had communicated with the pair, who say they are researching automotive cyber security, "about some aspects of their work."
"To FCA's knowledge, there has not been a single real-world incident of an unlawful or unauthorized remote hack into any FCA vehicle," said Gualberto Ranieri, the automaker's senior vice president of communications, in a blog post published Wednesday.
Governments, which regulate safety and fuel efficiency standards, are getting into the act too.
On Tuesday, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced a bill, called the SPYcar Act, aimed to preventing the hacking of vehicles. The bill would force automakers to protect software used in vehicles against tampering or intrusion.
The British government has issued a non-binding guideline for the testing of self-driving cars.
In addition to the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, the following FCA models equipped with touchscreens as part of the automaker's Uconnect infotainment system are affected.
- 2013-2014 Ram 1500 pickup
- 2013-2014 Ram 3500 cab chassis
- 2013-2014 Ram 2500 pickup
- 2013-2014 Ram 4500/5500 cab chassis
- 2013-2014 Ram 3500 pickup
- 2014 Grand Cherokee
- 2014 Durango
- 2013-2014 Viper
An FCA spokesman declined to say how many of its vehicles are covered by the software update. Owners can find out if they are affected by uploading their vehicle identification numbers (VIN) at an FCA Web site and downloading the software update on a USB drive. The update then can be installed in the car.
Alternatively, dealers will perform the installation free of charge, the company said.
FCA said it is working with suppliers to equip its systems with additional protocols that will block remote access.
As cars join the "Internet of things," investors are realizing that companies may be at risk to the extent they can't or don't protect themselves from criminals.
"Basically anything with an IP address is open to attack," said Adrian Turner, a Silicon Valley businessman who helped to found Mocana, a San Francisco-based information security firm. In 2013, he said that "people are numb" to the warnings of risk.