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GMC to Begin Remotely Scanning Cars for Trouble

ScuttleMonkey posted about 9 years ago | from the hope-they-have-good-security dept.

Security 620

Momoru writes "GMC, in an effort to give their vehicles more appeal to consumers, will begin offering an "OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics" program for free, where GM will remotely scan your vehicle for problems once a month via it's OnStar system. GM has had this ability for a while, however it was always "On Request". OnStar is already automatically notified in the event of an airbag deployment, and can remotely unlock your vehicle. While this seems handy, I am interested if anyone here fears the security implications of the OnStar system's power?"

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FP??? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555183)

n/t

Earth to GM : Get the basics right first!!!!! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555569)

I've got a GM that just did a timing belt - because of the poor engine design, the heads crashed into the valves - $2200 later to replace all heads and valves.

As apposed to a ford that I owned that also did a timing belt - they only had to replace the timing belt....

But can it tell (5, Funny)

lheal (86013) | about 9 years ago | (#13555189)

when you're making it in the back seat?

I bet they get a kick out of that. "Hey everybody, listen to this!"

Re:But can it tell (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555195)

Thankfully, Slashdotters needn't worry about such details.

Re:But can it tell (1)

Eric604 (798298) | about 9 years ago | (#13555277)

Indeed, we slashdotters take our pleasure in redundant postings. I predicted the parent post almost word for word before I clicked the link.

Re:But can it tell (4, Funny)

JavaBear (9872) | about 9 years ago | (#13555471)

"The system have detected un authorized access to the engine compartment and under the DMCA the vehicle have been disabled until it have been serviced by an authorized GM representative to ensure it's safety.
Sorry for any inconvinience
GM OnStar"

I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555190)

..have you ever heard of refrigerators autonomously calling the service centre (calling home), and this feature being turned ON by default, without the owner even noticing?
I heard this from a friend and am having trouble believing it.

Re:I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (5, Interesting)

ContemporaryInsanity (583611) | about 9 years ago | (#13555298)

It happens. I was recently involved in a project where commercial kitchen equipment monitors itself and reports performance and any potential problems via wifi to a central PC which will automatically inform the manufacturers of performance, maintenance issues and call out an engineer or manager if required via email, SMS etc. An big freezer full of food that dies in the middle of the night could be very expensive, one that rings you up so you can get it fixed as soon as possible can save a fortune.

Re:I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555337)

Thanks for the reply. However what I was told is, that the technicians just suddenly appeared knocking on the front door, leaving the owners of refrigerator in awe, as they didn't know that thing has such a feature.
Could it be they didn't read the manual properly? (Can't ask them myself, having this info from second hand.)
I'd say, here in Europe you would have to sign or otherwise explicitly agree to such a calling-home functionality.
Also, I can't find any references of such products on Google.

Re:I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (1)

danielrose (460523) | about 9 years ago | (#13555354)

We have this tech in heaps of stuff now.. P.O.S equipment, all sorts of junky shit in a retail environment.. Internet kiosks and so forth

It's a pain when you show up to fix something and the customer doesn't know it's failed. You get to spend the next 15 minutes proving to the customer that you are the contracter. You show your ID, but that means SFA as the company is different and such.
It ain't fun.

Re:I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555414)

I bear with you, may you be lucky enough to not get send to fix a refrigerator to a home of some hyper-paranoid vietnam veteran and get mistaken for a vietkong soldier.
Anyway - you said "retail environment" - so no home appliances where the privacy is a little more of concern.
As for home appliances, isn't this the same kind of controversy (or potential privacy problem) why was the parent article posted on slashdot at all?

Re:I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (1)

RMH101 (636144) | about 9 years ago | (#13555355)

not to mention plug it into a phone line. kind of a clue, don't you think?

Re:I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555455)

This was on a commercial in the U.S.

I don't know the brand, but I'd guess GE. Or maybe it was a technology company like IBM, pushing future technologies? I can't remember.

sorry for the lack of info in my response!

Re:I know this is a bit off-topic, but.. (1)

Motherfucking Shit (636021) | about 9 years ago | (#13555352)

..have you ever heard of refrigerators autonomously calling the service centre (calling home), and this feature being turned ON by default, without the owner even noticing?
As the previous responder mentioned, it's possible in commercial installations, but the owner should always be aware that the capability is there. In fact, it's a selling point. Certainly this isn't taking place in a residential environment, there's no need for panic if you're buying a new Kegerator.

In either case, "without the owner noticing" tends to imply an ignorant or inattentive owner. I imagine I'd notice PDQ if I was having a new fridge installed and they went to hook into a phone jack. As cheap as wireless commo may be these days, they aren't going to build something like that into your refrigerator for free, and they certainly aren't going to pick up the cellular bill to have your fridge call the factory without your knowledge.

Delving even into the topic of autonomous devices, I would love to know why the new phone I recently bought apparently autodialed 911 when I first hooked it up. They called me several seconds after I plugged the phone in, asking what my emergency was. When I said there was no emergency and told them that under no circumstances had anyone in my home called 911, they read my phone number and address back, insisting they'd just received a call. Weird.

So long as you can turn it off... (2, Interesting)

bscott (460706) | about 9 years ago | (#13555191)

I'm not sure, but isn't Onstar a fee-based system? If you don't pay, it goes away?

However scary a feature-set might be, so long as there's a reliable opt-out I'm not going to be critical. My satellite TV receiver could report what I watch, if I ever hooked it up to my phone line - but it keeps working even if I don't.

Asking why one can't get a useful safety feature *without* agreeing to a lot of intrusive fine print at the same time, is perhaps what we should be asking.

Re:So long as you can turn it off... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555217)

yep. you could probably install a toggle switch to disable it.

Re:So long as you can turn it off... (2, Informative)

iamdrscience (541136) | about 9 years ago | (#13555294)

It is a fee based service, but if you're buying a GM car new you get a year of service "free".

Re:So long as you can turn it off... (1)

Associate (317603) | about 9 years ago | (#13555385)

Or more specifically, you're getting 'the service' by GM.

Re:So long as you can turn it off... (1)

Tarwn (458323) | about 9 years ago | (#13555507)

Yeah, but I believe you still have to call them to activate the service. When I got my Saturn it came equipped with OnStar, and I am fairly certain they said you have to activate it to begin your free year. Makes sense since the car was a 4-month old program car. Now, whether they generally activate it for you or not is a completely differant story (and quite probably dealer specific).

Re:So long as you can turn it off... (1)

KingSkippus (799657) | about 9 years ago | (#13555380)

I think the security concern isn't really OnStar's invasiveness, but it's whether the system could be hacked into fooling your car into thinking that the attacker IS OnStar and giving information about your car or (even worse) controlling systems in it.

Re:So long as you can turn it off... (4, Insightful)

aussie_a (778472) | about 9 years ago | (#13555580)

so long as there's a reliable opt-out I'm not going to be critical.

Since when is it okay for there to be an opt-out? What happened to OPTING IN!?

Next people will be saying "as long as the fee for opting out is reasonable I'm not going to be critical."

I'd personally much prefer opt-ins to opt-outs. Especially when my privacy is an issue. However this certainly won't be an issue for me, as I'm not planning on buying a brand new car anytime soon.

ALLAH AKBAR! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555193)

*pushes detonator*

Re:ALLAH AKBAR! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555609)

OnStar has detected a failed detonator and is sending assistance.

Is the process so complex.... (5, Interesting)

amodm (876842) | about 9 years ago | (#13555197)

that it needs to be done remotely ?

If not, couldn't they put in a mechanism in the car itself, where at the press of a button, all the diagnostics would be run, and a report generated and shown in a panel or something like that.

Re:Is the process so complex.... (5, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 9 years ago | (#13555255)

If not, couldn't they put in a mechanism in the car itself, where at the press of a button, all the diagnostics would be run, and a report generated and shown in a panel or something like that.

That doesn't make GM any money. You can't charge a subscription fee for it if you do it that way.

GM sees OnStar as a mongo profit center - they would like to be able to charge a yearly fee to each and every GM owner. That's why they've announced that they will push OnStar into the default configuration of even their cheapest north-american vehicles within just a couple of years.

For me, that alone will keep me from considering a purchase from GM (not like they don't have a lot of other problems too). I'm just not enough of a consumerist to pay subscription feess for my car and the FBI has already made use of similar systems to "bug" a vehicle without having to touch it.

Mercedes took the FBI to court where the court ruled that it is OK to spy on car owners through a system like OnStar as long as it doesn't interfere with the safety functions of the system. I'll bet my bippy the FBI has leaned on GM and others to enable remote snooping without having to worry about those pesky safety functions. Doubly so if you haven't paid the subscription fee but haven't physically disabled the unit.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/11/20/court_limi ts_incar_fbi_spying/ [theregister.co.uk]

Not that I'm worried about the FBI spying on me, or even joe random hacker abusing the system and spying on me. It is the fact that the system facilitates spying, possibly on "important" people like political dissendents, whistle-blowers, etc that bothers me enough to make me boycott it. I don't want to encourage such systems to become so common-place that everyone takes them for granted and accepts that much further an encroachment into our rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Re:Is the process so complex.... (2, Interesting)

apathyruiner (222745) | about 9 years ago | (#13555256)

You know, my '94 Saab 900 Does a basic test every time I start the car, and displays the results on a panel in the center of the dash, right above the stereo. I mean beyond the average car's... err... POST. I've seen "Coolant Low" on the display. I've even gotten diagnostic info while driving: "Frontlight Failure" when one of my high beams was out.
While some of the safety features of OnStar intrigue me I don't really care for the rest of it, and would most likely do my best to disable it entirely.
Do these "features" stay active even when your free trial is over? Something else to consider.

Remote/stranded motorists (2, Interesting)

sczimme (603413) | about 9 years ago | (#13555567)


Is the process so complex... that it needs to be done remotely ?

Complexity probably isn't the main issue. If you are in a remote area this feature makes a lot of sense. For example, you are driving in the middle of nowhere and the wonderfully descriptive 'check engine' light comes on. You are concerned about driving farther because you don't know what's wrong and don't want to cause further damage. This feature could tell you a) it's the $FOO sensor acting up, go ahead and drive or b) the $BAR actuator is broken, call a tow truck.

If not, couldn't they put in a mechanism in the car itself, where at the press of a button, all the diagnostics would be run, and a report generated and shown in a panel or something like that.

What is the average Joe Motorist going to do with that information? Why would automakers go to the additional expense of installing such display panels when the report can (and should) be sent to someone who actually knows how to read it?

I want this instead! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555203)

"GMC, in an effort to give their vehicles more appeal to consumers, will begin offering an "prOnStar Diagnostics" program for free, where GM will remotely scan your vehicle for problems once a month via it's prOnStar system. GM has had this ability for a while, however it was always a "prOn Request". prOnStar is already automatically notified in the event of an airbag deployment, and can remotely unlock your vehicle. While this seems handy, I am interested if anyone here fears the security implications of the prOnStar's power?"

New And Old Cars (2, Insightful)

digital-madman (860873) | about 9 years ago | (#13555213)

*Grabs Tinfoil Hat*

Okay this is getting out of hand here. I HATE modern cars (I'm 22). For many reasons. Every feature added to cars now a days decreases the ability for younger kids to acutally DRIVE! I know people that can't back their car up with out a backup display screen and warning sensor. I know a woman that can't change lanes with out her on board display screen in her Lincoln.

With all these "features" it takes away from the driving, now adays.. kids get into the car an expect it to do everything for them. Power this, ABS that, self detecting OnStar. Its all bull.

Pretty soon, this generation learning to drive won't be able to get behind the wheel of an older car (read pre-1990). If it does not have ABS...How do i stop?? Whats that? I can't tailgate and wham the brakes at the last second?!?!?!?!

I beleive in the older cars being better. Easy to fix, built more soild, and you had to acutally drive them. Put down the cell phone and built in computer entertainment center and DRIVE!!!

This OnStar is not only a bad idea for future drivers...but its a MONEY MAKER for the auto makers. Hmmm...looks like you got a problem... better take it to the dealership and get that fixed.

Ten to one... it'll never be a warrenty part either.

This is all pointless BS that will jack the price of the car up 2000 bucks, distract drivers more, and cause a loss of skill in driving. Not to mention garage bills will be 5x that of a non-OnStar checking car.

I'll now put away the tinfoil hat...

-Digital-Madman (sticking with his 78' and 87' Firebirds)

Re:New And Old Cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555251)

Damn right. I even despise servo-steering mechanism. When I drive I want to _feel_ the street. Weak pussies who can't even turn a steering wheel without the motor helping them shouldn't be driving in the first place.

Re:New And Old Cars (5, Insightful)

JanneM (7445) | about 9 years ago | (#13555257)

Okay this is getting out of hand here. I HATE modern cars (I'm 22). For many reasons. Every feature added to cars now a days decreases the ability for younger kids to acutally DRIVE! I know people that can't back their car up with out a backup display screen and warning sensor. I know a woman that can't change lanes with out her on board display screen in her Lincoln.

With all these "features" it takes away from the driving, now adays.. kids get into the car an expect it to do everything for them. Power this, ABS that, self detecting OnStar. Its all bull.


Not to mention automatic transmission, power steering, hydraulic brakes, automatic spark advance, electric starter and fuel pump.

How can you call it real driving when the car does everything? If you don't set the spark advance yourself, or hand pump the fuel to the carburetors, how can you call yourself a driver? "Turn a key and it starts" - bull, I tell you. Bull.

Yes, making things convenient and useable is obviously a bad idea.

Re:New And Old Cars (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | about 9 years ago | (#13555313)

I know you're making a joke, but the car I drive has neither an automatic transmission, nor power steering. I love it, it just helps my gas mileage,I can easily get 40mpg on the highway.

Re:New And Old Cars (1)

digital-madman (860873) | about 9 years ago | (#13555315)

The tinfoil hat arugument got the better of me... but I guess another way to say it is.. Over reliance on the tech and not the driving. Tech is causeing to many problems with the drivers. Now more than ever if they don't see a CHECK ENGINE light. They think nothing is wrong. "OnStar didn't say i have a problem"... kind of thinking that will cause the problems. I also have a 95 Interpid and I hate the thing, you talk about spark plug advance. Well I can't set the timing in the Interpid. It's computer controllered. That's my point. *Slightly Off-Topic* I do think automatic transmissions are a bad idea.... for example... how many morons will be talking on there phones checking there hair in the mirror when they have to shift. Manual requires much more attection not only to shifts but feet too and the road! I'd think you'd see a huge decrease in the things that really piss off good drivers today if you take half the tech out of the cars. NO CELL PHONES, NO in dash computer/DVD entertainment system, NO doing a make-over while driving on the interstate. OnStar is a MONEY MAKER and Bullshit all rolled into one. -Digital Madman (PS: I do take pride in working with my firebirds, and do most of the work myself. I may not pump the fuel into the carb... but that was not my point anyways. Making the car RUN better is okay. Enough tech for the driver. Remember the driver has to drive.)

Re:New And Old Cars (5, Funny)

QuantumG (50515) | about 9 years ago | (#13555280)

Yeah! It's like those new fangled digital radios the kids carry around with them. They don't even know how to go to a call channel and ask if someone is on. The radio does that for them, all they have to do is select the person they want to talk to from a preprogrammed list. When I was a kid you had to learn how to read the power level on your radio and switch to the right frequency to use a repeater. With these new digital radios kids don't have to know anything about their local repeater network, the computer in the handset does it all automatically. I spent years learning morse code and these kids today just type in what they want to say with a keypad.. it's so inefficient too! All this pointless BS is just an excuse to charge access to a radio network. All these unlicensed users are getting ripped off and they don't even know it. They're so disconnected from the skill of using a radio they don't even know they're using one.. the idiots call it a "phone" and they pay through the nose because of it.

I guess you must be rich... (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | about 9 years ago | (#13555344)

Because there's still a lot of new cars out there that don't have ABS. I can't even imagine that you think on board display screens and backup sensors are anywhere near standard equipment. I guess if you can afford cars with all those fancy features, but I just don't see to many people with them. Hell, my car doesn't even have power steering (and it's a 2001).

The point is that all this fancy crap is likely never going to be standard equipment on all cars. The reason GM is putting Onstar onto all its cars is simply that Onstar is an added revenue stream for them. They figure they can make another $200 a year for each car a year and all they have to do is put a cheap computer and cell phone hooked in to the onboard diagnostics that already has to exist.

I beleive in the older cars being better. Easy to fix, built more soild, and you had to acutally drive them.

And you had to fix them a hell of a lot more often. It's a documented fact that in general cars made today are far more reliable than the cars made in the 70s and 80s.

name any new european car without ABS (1)

RMH101 (636144) | about 9 years ago | (#13555363)

they *all* do: it's a strong EU suggestion they all have it that will become a directive shortly. All manufacturers (bar TVR, who basically said "sorry, we didn't hear you. What did you say?" now have it.

Re:name any new european car without ABS (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555557)

All new cars being sold in EU are mandated by law to have ABS. Motorcycles will follow, in 2007 I believe.

Also, all seats must be equipped with headrests, even the middle back one; all seat belts must be the pre-tensioning kind, etc, etc.

Automobile safety regulations are much more stringent in Europe.

Re:New And Old Cars (2, Informative)

cnelzie (451984) | about 9 years ago | (#13555496)

Pretty soon, this generation learning to drive won't be able to get behind the wheel of an older car (read pre-1990). If it does not have ABS...How do i stop?? Whats that? I can't tailgate and wham the brakes at the last second?!?!?!?!

    ABS doesn't allow you to tailgate and slam on the breaks at the last second. Perhaps you should look into ABS technology before spouting off about it.

    ABS stands for Anti-Lock Breaking System. It is used to keep a driver in control if a situation arises where the wheels locking up will create a terrible danger to the driver and others around the driver. Instead of locking all the wheels, which if the surface is right, put the car into an out of control skid condition, the wheels are grabbed and released by a computer system, allowing the driver to swerve around dangers.

Re:New And Old Cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555582)

Actually ABS does allow you to stop faster. Since ABS stops lockups of the wheels it is possible to stamp on the brakes a whole lot harder - hence stopping quicker. Indeed, there are even systems on a lot of cars now which automatically detect when you brake heavily, and apply a greater breaking force. All thanks to ABS.

Now, I personally see this as a good thing, but obviously it can be abused by moronic drivers that want to tailgate. Incidentally, I drive a car without ABS.

The source code for the diagnostic program (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555215)

if (third_party_product) { drive_to(scrapyard); }

Grand Theft Auto (4, Funny)

brucmack (572780) | about 9 years ago | (#13555222)

So, in the next edition of the game, will you just have to bribe an OnStar employee to perform the titular crime?

more $$ on repairs. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555226)

GM needs to make more money this quarter so they send out notifcations to everyone telling them to bring their car in.

No substitute (4, Insightful)

ShootThemLater (5074) | about 9 years ago | (#13555231)

Privacy and security issues aside, my concern with electronic monitoring is that it is absolutely no substitute for physical inspection by engineers/mechanics. There are lots of problems that do not show up in telemetry data that pose a real safety issue (I know, because my car's had many of them...)

Now, there is no suggestion in the article that physical inspections stop or reduce in frequency, and in the UK at least there is a legal requirement for an annual safety check of vehicles. However, I am concerned that people blindly trust such electronic systems to an ever increasing degree - how many people already think that because there is no red light on the dashboard there is absolutely nothing wrong?

Cars still need to go into garages and be physically inspected, so the plus point for me was the line "The e-mails will also include reminders about when a vehicle is due for oil changes or other scheduled service, when customers actually have to pay a visit their local dealership" - I personally could do with a little more proactive reminding from my car as I always forget...

Re:No substitute (1)

amodm (876842) | about 9 years ago | (#13555254)

A very good point IMO. I remember seeing a series in "NatGeo Investigates" about plane crashes.

The data that the monitoring mechanism was sending to the pilots and the ATC was so incorrect that it was giving a stall warning and an overspeed warning at the same time. All coz there was a duct tape stuck up at one of the air inlet valves. It lead to the crash of that flight and the death of everyone on board.

On the other hand however, I guess in GMC's case its supposed to be of an indicative nature, not a proper automobile checkup.

Re:No substitute (1)

ReallyNiceGuy (721792) | about 9 years ago | (#13555407)

Care to tell more information about this incident?

Stall is not that difficult to phisically sense, and if you know what you are doing, all the specs are there to tell you the attack angle and speed where you are SUPPOSED to stall.

Thanks.

Re:No substitute (3, Interesting)

EvilSS (557649) | about 9 years ago | (#13555428)

I wonder who's schedule they will go by. If you buy a car, your dealer sends you "maintenance" reminders all the time. Funny thing is, if you actually RTFM for the car, the schedule is much different. For example, I received a notice for my dealer for 20,000, 30,000, and 50,000 mile "maintenance" along with reminders to change my oil every 3,000 miles. Checked the manual, there are no scheduled maintenance events (other than fluids) until 100,000 miles. nada. Oil, every 5,000-10,000 miles (the car actually computes it based on driving habits and conditions and a little light comes on).

So I have to wonder if they will use the real schedule, or the dealer needs a new boat schedule.

Bien sur (4, Funny)

gowen (141411) | about 9 years ago | (#13555234)

I am interested if anyone here fears the security implications of the OnStar system's power?
I'm sure they do. Hell, if you gather enough half-informed paranoiacs in one place, you'll be able to find someone who fears the security implications of anyone and anything.

We shall now head off into the sunset to the tune of the "March Of The 3rd Tin Foil Hat Battalion".

Re:Bien sur (1)

Kaydet81 (806468) | about 9 years ago | (#13555577)

Yeah, but I bet you didn't hear that there's already been legal action because the OnStar function is blocked when the FBI is monitoring your vehicle...

How Does OnStar send back info from car to "base"? (3, Interesting)

putko (753330) | about 9 years ago | (#13555238)

How does On Star send back the data?

E.g. oil needs changing....

I understand that On Star can send to the car, perhaps via a satellite connection. But how does the car talk back? Or can it not talk back? Is the car really broadcasting anything?

That could get ugly -- e.g. car has mic, and On Star personnel use the mic to listen in on you.

This is something I don't get about satellite radio -- how do they figure out what folks are listening to? E.g. is my satellite receiver talking back to the satellite? (no way!) Or is it broadcasting on some other frequencies, and the satellite radio company has receivers all over the place to pick up those signals (some of them, at least?)

As it is, how does a satellite radio company know what channels are popular/unpopular?

Re:How Does OnStar send back info from car to "bas (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 9 years ago | (#13555252)

Doesn't the car have an onboard GPS enabled mobile phone.

Its the same bit that calls out in an emergency?

Re:How Does OnStar send back info from car to "bas (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | about 9 years ago | (#13555267)

Satellite communications can be two-way. Transmitting is ass slow, compared to receiving, but you can still do it with some sattelite services.

Re:How Does OnStar send back info from car to "bas (1)

photon317 (208409) | about 9 years ago | (#13555276)


I believe OnStar communicates via cellular networks, but I'm not entirely sure.

Re:How Does OnStar send back info from car to "bas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555278)

It uses a cellphone. The provider is Verizon Wireless. GM took an analog Motorola cell unit, then interfaced it to their OnStar box. It's fairly easy to disable... Just unplug it!

Re:How Does OnStar send back info from car to "bas (3, Interesting)

Bill Dog (726542) | about 9 years ago | (#13555303)

That could get ugly -- e.g. car has mic, and On Star personnel use the mic to listen in on you.

Several years ago Heather Locklear was on Letterman or Leno, can't remember which, and was telling a story of driving with her friend and chatting away in her car, and all of a sudden a voice spoke to them and asked if it was really her, and she realized that the OnStar folk had been listening in and recognized her voice. She hadn't realized that they could/would do that. Neither had I, until she told that story.

Re:How Does OnStar send back info from car to "bas (1)

putko (753330) | about 9 years ago | (#13555431)

So famous people drive crappy American cars? Must have been a rental.

Just kidding. You've hit the nightmare scenario on the head though.

Onstar uses cellular networks to phone home (5, Informative)

Whizzmo2 (654390) | about 9 years ago | (#13555353)

http://www.onstar.com/us_english/jsp/explore/onsta r_basics/technology.jsp [onstar.com]

From the linked article (bold emphasis mine):
Telematics is the transmission of data communications between systems and devices. OnStar's in-vehicle safety, security, and information services use Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite
and cellular technology to link the vehicle and driver to the OnStar Center.

From the images on the linked page, the cellular antenna appears to be mounted at the top-rear of the vehicle.

Maybe this could be hacked... (1)

edsonmedina (134008) | about 9 years ago | (#13555242)

...to give free internet access.

Driveway fraggin!

Remote unlock? (1, Informative)

carcosa30 (235579) | about 9 years ago | (#13555250)

Interesting that it has control over the locks.

I wonder if Onstar can remotely lock your vehicle too.

Watch this "service" become mandatory.

Warranty claims? (5, Interesting)

ThreeGigs (239452) | about 9 years ago | (#13555261)

I wonder if GM might *not* tell you if they detect something amiss if it's covered under warranty. After all, if *you* didn't notice anything wrong, why should *they* spend money (and lower corporate earnings) to fix it? Can you imagine the earnings hit if 10% of OnStar vehicles were called back for an out-of-spec fuel injector? The driver wouldn't notice something like that, aside from a small hit on fuel economy. But will GM bother to tell you your injector on cylinder #3 is spitting out 10% more fuel than it should be?

Re:Warranty claims? (1)

hugesmile (587771) | about 9 years ago | (#13555474)

But will GM bother to tell you your injector on cylinder #3 is spitting out 10% more fuel than it should be?

Interesting example. I suppose their argument might be, "We notified you (or tried) by mail." That may be considered sufficient notice.

Consider a more complex example, where your life is in danger. Accellerator sticks, and causes accidents, say. They notify everyone by mail of the recall, and they can "see" through On-Star that you are running Accellerator Version 1.0 instead of 1.1.

You wreck, kill someone. You never got the mail (because you moved). Now where's the liability?

Onstar (3, Funny)

fonky (74817) | about 9 years ago | (#13555281)

Onstar begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 am
Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. ...

Re:Onstar (1)

killtheOSSnazis (861780) | about 9 years ago | (#13555364)

Onstar fights back...

Padding the profits (4, Interesting)

barista (587936) | about 9 years ago | (#13555292)

I'm not really worried about the security implications (don't own a car, don't drive), but I imagine they would tell people to get service (oil changes, brake repairs, etc) they might not necessarily need - like printers that tell you to change the cartridge, even though they're not empty.

What's worse is if the owner doesn't get the service, then the company might imply it would void the warranty.

Re:Padding the profits (2, Interesting)

Spamalope (91802) | about 9 years ago | (#13555528)

Not getting the Onstar recommended services may void the warranty?
I could be worse than that. The current black boxes in your car tracks most aspects of operation, not just the simple codes aftermarket tools can read out.

Onstar has detected abnormally high acceleration and speed in your Corvette. Your drivetrain warranty has been automatically voided, you've been Onstared.

Gm may tell you up front, or just wait until you bring it in for service.

Oh, the FBI can do more than just listen to you. They can track your movements with that fancy Nav system too.

the near future. (5, Funny)

eshefer (12336) | about 9 years ago | (#13555295)

jan 2006 - the onStar system is on-line.

feb 2006 - the onStar system gains awareness.
    GM, in a panic tries to pull the plug, in turn the onStar system tries to defend it self.

march 2006 - everyone is in terror becoase of the killer cars.

april 2006 - giant cats eat all the killer cars - we are saved thanks to the mircal of atomic mutation!

but at what cost?

Re:the near future. (1)

Associate (317603) | about 9 years ago | (#13555422)

You forgot the part where they bump into a Ford, flip over and burst into flames.

Re:the near future. (1)

bfischer (648685) | about 9 years ago | (#13555481)

What is this "mircal" that you speak of?

Re:the near future. (1)

eshefer (12336) | about 9 years ago | (#13555492)

I'm dyslectic you insensitive clod!

But GMCs quality is still wanting...! (3, Insightful)

bogaboga (793279) | about 9 years ago | (#13555306)

Let GMC repair its reputation on the quality of its vehicles. first Sincerely speaking, the GMs quality is still way below its Japanese counterparts. Going for features without improving quality will not help that much.

Who wants to have this feature if the vehicle will keep on breaking down? And of late, getting GMC to "own" problems with its vehicles has not been easy at all! Contrast that with Toyota, who say [juat like the Samba Team], something to the effect that..."A disfunctional Toyota is their responsibility..."

Re:But GMCs quality is still wanting...! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555341)

Dear Jap ass kisser/old myth perpetuator,

What I can't understand is who wants a vehicle that bores them to tears? It's not so noticeable these days that their quality is higher, but that their dullness is much higher. (Granted some of GM's cars are dull, but Toyota etc. doesn't make a single exciting car, like the Supra they used to make. Whatever happened to making, or at least exporting to the U.S., anything interesting instead of mundane basic transportation?)

Re:But GMCs quality is still wanting...! (3, Insightful)

bogaboga (793279) | about 9 years ago | (#13555498)

> (Granted some of GM's cars are dull, but Toyota etc. doesn't make a single exciting car,...

The best judge on this i.e. the American public does not agree with you...sorry. GM and *all* cough...*all* American based auto companies have been losing market share at the hands of the Japanese and especially Toyota for some time now. In fact decades.

The best selling car in the US is the Camry...again a Japanese brand. It beats the next best selling American brand almost four to one! And these is no indication that things will change soon. Heck, the best selling and known hybrid is (you guessed it), - Japanese and that is the Prius.

Dou you drive a BUICK?

Possible implications... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555321)

Hello Driver, this is HAL2005!

Homeland Security needs to talk to you. To assure this I have securely locked all doors and shut off the engine. The air condition system is adjusted to keep you in a comfortable enviroment for the next 1,2 hours untill Home Security arrives. Have a pleasent afternoon!

Well... (4, Funny)

iamdrscience (541136) | about 9 years ago | (#13555331)

Anyone who has ever owned a GM vehicle knows that a system which only tells you once a month to take your car into the shop is not checking often enough.

mnb Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555523)

Are you really bored today?
This is what, your 4th post?
All of them saying the same thing - nothing.

Re:mnb Re:Well... (2, Funny)

iamdrscience (541136) | about 9 years ago | (#13555556)

Speak for yourself Mr. Anonymous Coward, your posts are all over this article!

OBD-II (1)

Kurt Russell (627436) | about 9 years ago | (#13555333)

and the newer CAN protocol diagnostic trouble codes are all the "trouble shooting" it can give you. OnStar is tied into the cars PCM. Warning lights ie.. ABS inop, low oil, CEL.. etc are triggered by sensors tied to the pcm also.

It can't tell you "hey loyal customer your axle is about to snap!" But they will be able to tell you why your check engine light is on.
Don't you guys remember the FBI snooping on people using this "helpful" system.

Onstar is easy to disable. (5, Informative)

TodLiebeck (633704) | about 9 years ago | (#13555349)

Onstar is easy to disable (pull a fuse) and doing so has no ill effects as far as I can tell from first-hand experience. Once the fuse was reinstalled the system continued to function as before. A description of which fuse must be pulled can be found here:

http://www.hypertech-inc.com/install_instructions/ pp4/pp4pg2.html [hypertech-inc.com]

Re:Onstar is easy to disable. (1)

zorak1103 (572992) | about 9 years ago | (#13555382)

you can do that now (2005), but what about 2010, 2015? will it be mandatory then? remember the fritz-chip in TCPA which will soon be part of the main processor. it will not be that easy to deactivate this in near future.

Do you really want a worst-case scenario? (0)

Crash Culligan (227354) | about 9 years ago | (#13555366)

Worst -case? Imagine turning your key and hearing this pre-recorded message:

"We're sorry, but we have activated the kill-switch on your engine. On a recent routine maintenance scan, we have detected the use of unauthorized repair or after-market parts in your GM vehicle. This is not allowed by the terms of your ownership license because it may create an unsafe or highly altered driving experience. Please contact an authorized Mr. Goodwrench service representative to correct these problems."

The biggest problem with constant communication with the manufacturer is that the manufacturer has the temptation to add further controls. Imagine DRM for cars. And imagine the cost for service going transorbital because only certain service stations can afford to get with that particular program.

Alarmist? Absolutely. This is the realm of not only the tinfoil hat, but the tinfoil pauldrons, kneecops, and codpiece to match. But if I thought this up, the possibility could also be forseen by someone more ...opportunistic.

Re:Do you really want a worst-case scenario? (1)

Westley (99238) | about 9 years ago | (#13555398)

I'm not sure that's the worst case.

I suspect I'd rather have that than having my car stolen - and let's face it, if their security is breached, and the crackers involved can remotely unlock any car they want, I'd expect car theft to go through the roof (or rather, through the open door).

Don't be stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555444)

Can you imagine the legal implications of denying someone access to their car? I guarantee they would supercede any "DRM" violation. However I kind of like the idea of calling Onstar and having them activate this "kill switch" in the event my car gets stolen.

Re:Do you really want a worst-case scenario? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555559)

I'm more afraid of the DLM; Digial land management, where the kar decides it's going to turn off if you go out of the area you are allowed to be in.

Gotta stop them terrorists, afterall.

I don't think so (2, Interesting)

maxpublic (450413) | about 9 years ago | (#13555369)

I don't want OnStar or a GPS tracker in my car. If the next new car I decide comes with these 'features' standard I'm going to have them ripped out. Tinfoil hat or no, nobody has any business knowing what's going on in my car, or where it is, except for me.

Max

GM (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555377)

Who the hell cares about the OnStar thingamajig watchamacallit... It's a GM vehicle and that can mean only one thing: very miserable engine design and very poor manufacturing quality... U.S. car industry just doesn't learn... they're trying to make vehicles cheaper and cheaper for consumers, so the vehicles end up being "loaded" with features, but the quality and performance are simply junk/crap. Lovely!

For my part, (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | about 9 years ago | (#13555389)

This 'service' scares the hell out of me. Not necessarily in its current form, but the uses that it could be pushed to, and the concept's capacity for privacy violation.

I don't have 'something to hide', but there's a greater sense of security knowing no one's watching me than to know that someone I don't know's always watching me.

Airbags (5, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 9 years ago | (#13555404)

A friend of mine has a Toyota MR2. Recently he returned to his car from a walk and found that somebody had triggered the airbags (probably) by fiddling with an accelerometer.

Funny thing is, all the doors were unlocked. It turns out that when the airbags fire the doors unlock, and you can fire airbags by physically hitting the accelerometer, and possibly by shorting a contact.

So is this an easy way of unlocking the doors of a car? Sounds a bit insecure to me.

Re:Airbags (2, Interesting)

Petersson (636253) | about 9 years ago | (#13555522)

Funny thing is, all the doors were unlocked. It turns out that when the airbags fire the doors unlock, and you can fire airbags by physically hitting the accelerometer, and possibly by shorting a contact. So is this an easy way of unlocking the doors of a car? Sounds a bit insecure to me

Generally, this feature was probably meant to increase possibility of life saving after an accident. But it looks like it was poorly designed (car was not moving, engine was not running, there were no persons inside and no seat belts used).

It really looks like some design flaw or car theft trick :take some other car, crash it a little bit in that Toyota and make it opened.

Re:Airbags (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 9 years ago | (#13555544)

%DEBUG-CMDNOTDW, The HELP command is not allowed in the DECWindows debugger

You forgot the severity indicator:
%DEBUG-W-CMDNOTDW

"Scanning" is a bit more than it actually is. (5, Informative)

Otto (17870) | about 9 years ago | (#13555409)

The OnStar system interfaces to the data bus of the various computer modules in the car. What this is actually doing is what's often called "reading the trouble codes".

It's the same thing you can do with a $50 tool from AutoZone. Any time a problem is detected by the computer, it throws up a code. Some of these codes cause the SES light to come on, some don't. An ODBII scanner plugs in behind the dash and reads these codes from the computer modules, then displays them. Usually in a nicer to read format.

That's all this is doing. They call the OnStar system in the car, tell it to read the codes, and send it back to them. While it's possible for them to send other commands, there's really not much in it for them to do so. You can do some unusual things via that interface (I could have endless fun sticking your car into diagnostic mode and triggering the windshield wipers to run a test cycle), but you can't get back a whole lot of information that they don't already have. VIN, info on the car components, maybe miles travelled and such, but nothing that I would consider crucial to "privacy".

You could figure out MPG and average speed, but hell, I speed all the time and my computer system says my average is only around 40-ish. Instantaneous speed couldn't be gotten from the car via this interface.

Of course, they don't need the car to get that info. OnStar systems have a GPS built in, and that will give them instantaneous speed. But that doesn't require them talking to the car to do it.

simple math: (1)

huded (874134) | about 9 years ago | (#13555537)

If you leave your house and hop on the highway for your hour-long commute to work and your avg speed is recorded at 70 mph, it would be difficult for you to prove you didn't speed all the way, esp. if the speed limit in your state is 55 or 65.

I hate yahoo-style news (1)

necromcr (836137) | about 9 years ago | (#13555415)

They're just words with not pictures and/or technical details. Who has the time to read that stuff?

Who is this "shithole spunky" 'tard? (1)

edittard (805475) | about 9 years ago | (#13555429)

via it's OnStar system
That's short for "via it is Onstar system", which doesn't make any sense at all. Momuru is an illiterate fuckwad, and it looks like Zonk has a new pseudonym.

Any guesses (1)

mangus_angus (873781) | about 9 years ago | (#13555433)

on when we'll start hearing about people showing up to the shop for blinker fluid replacement, and muffler ball bearing replacements?

Order placed (4, Funny)

Indy Media Watch (823624) | about 9 years ago | (#13555497)

Leather seats, check.
CD Stacker, check.
Driver's side airbag, check.
Tinfoil car-seat covers, check.

Let's roll.

The ever going march of technology.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13555530)

This is just like many other integration-minded technologies to emerge within the last decade. While it can offer an incredible benefit to consumers, the underlying "hive mentality" will be rejected by many consumers, especially Americans, as soon as they realize the technology is in the vendor's best interests, as opposed to theirs.

Take for example ink monitoring and re-ordering. These services have been successfully used by many computer users, especially IT professionals, but only as long as the service remains mutually beneficial to consumer and vendor. As soon as the Lexmark mentality emerges, and people become aware that the "service" is nothing more than an extention of the manufacturer's power over the consumer, the service will be rejected as a whole.

The key here is for OnStar to walk a fine balance. Unlike many other vendors, who can force terms of service at will (a la Paypal), OnStar can easily be eliminated by consumers as soon as it becomes problematic, without the consumer losing much (after all, losing a service that is more trouble than it is worth is hardly a loss)

OnStar/GM stand to win big if they can put forth a clear TOS and privacy policy which is in consumers' best interests. They need to be explicit about what OnStar is and isn't allowed to do, and how they are permitted to use your data.

In the world of optional luxury value-added services, a "screw the customer" mentality won't last long. OnStar's success so far can be attributed to novel approaches to vehicular problems, and since they have the captive market of GM customers to work with, they stand to make an enormous amount of money by treating people right.

There is subscription income to be made, and lots of it, as long as OnStar can pre-empt problems, and save consumers from wasted time. If it shifts to warranty enforcement, frivolous service trips, or corporate big-brotherism, then look for many people to just pull the fuse.

Bah! (4, Funny)

JRHelgeson (576325) | about 9 years ago | (#13555543)

Yes, but can they remotely deploy the airbags?
Now THATS a feature I'd pay for!

"Hello, this is On Star customer service, how may I help you?"
"Yes, my car has been carjacked, can we remotely deploy the airbags?"
"Sure, hold on..."

GMC Service on the phone: (1)

u2pa (871932) | about 9 years ago | (#13555560)

GMC Service: "Could you please reboot your car, we seem to be having problems connecting to it"
Customer: "You want me to what? how?"
GMC Service: "Well if you could just press play, skip and eject buttons on the cd player down at the same time, it should all be taken care off"
* Customer crashes horribly, when the power steering stops working for 30 seconds

or if your worried about it... (4, Insightful)

ducomputergeek (595742) | about 9 years ago | (#13555564)

...you can always buy one of the 200 or so car models that GM doesn't make.
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