Join us at TNW Conference 2021 for insights into the future of tech →

The heart of tech

This article was published on July 22, 2015


    Uncontrollable: How the first remote kidnapping from a driverless car could go down

    Uncontrollable: How the first remote kidnapping from a driverless car could go down
    Ben Woods
    Story by

    Ben Woods

    Europe Editor

    Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional online poker player. You can contact him via Twitter or on Google+.

    A busy dad tries to get his son dressed for school.

    Little Johnny is refusing to eat breakfast, and eventually pushes his bowl off the side of the table. Cereal flies everywhere.

    Dad isn’t happy and orders Johnny upstairs to get ready. He goes, reluctantly.

    The camera cuts back to dad muttering, looking stressed and cleaning up the mess on the kitchen floor.

    Ten minutes later a driverless car pulls up to take Johnny to school and dad to work. The boy runs out the house, dad follows out of the door, and jumps in. The car’s robotic voice assistant greets them. The date shows March 3, 2018.

    The camera cuts to Johnny’s mom, a high-flying [insert cliche here] who is clearly busy at work and under a lot of pressure.

    The phone in the office rings. The voice on the end of the phone says that hackers have hijacked the controls of Johnny’s car to school and are in control of it.

    He’s been kidnapped. The kidnappers want a ransom or Johnny will never be seen again. Dad and Johnny are shown, oblivious to the peril, on a live-stream inside the car sent to mom’s phone.


    That might seem a little far-fetched, but perhaps not – it’s more a look at the near-future possibilities.

    Yesterday, we ran a story based on Wired’s article about hackers who took control of a journalist’s Jeep and many of the car’s functions.

    It started gently enough, with the ‘hackers’ playing around with the stereo, wipers and other non-essential equipment. Then they cut the transmission, so pressing the gas pedal had no effect at all.

    It’s at that point that it must have started to get all too real. All too scary, while the driver sat motionless approaching a busy off ramp. Or in the movie above, the point where Johnny’s car door locked and he cruised straight past his school. That would be the first alarm bell.

    Combine the advances in driverless car tech with the ability for ‘bad guys’ to be bad guys and how long is it before we see the first remote kidnapping or abduction?

    Having someone take control of the car you’re driving is pretty scary. Having someone nefarious take control of a car in which you never had access to the steering, gas, door locks or anything else would be even more terrifying when it starts taking a route you have no knowledge of.


    Johnny and his dad are in the car, not yet aware anything is wrong. Then a voice comes out the car’s speakers. The car hits the freeway and speeds up.

    There’s no escape, now travelling at a speed fast enough that Johnny and his dad couldn’t safely jump out, even if they could open the windows or doors.

    After two hours driving the duo around, the hacker begins to lose patience. He wants to make sure mom pays up, so begins to slowly tighten dad’s seatbelt.

    The camera cuts back to the car, where Johnny is looking panicked and dad is beginning to struggle to breathe.

    Dad escapes the seatbelt’s death grip by cutting through using a knife from the glove-box. He decides that waiting for his wife to make the ransom payment isn’t necessarily going to be the end of the story and decides to take matters into his own hands.

    He manages to wrestle the window down as side-streets speed by. He shouldn’t have though. Just as he’s waving trying to get attention, the hacker slams the window back up, cutting off his arm.

    The camera cuts to Johnny’s terrified face, splattered with blood. 


    It’s not a fun gaze at the future, but it’s one worth considering when hackers can remotely control cars today.

    Of course, as with other sectors, the automotive industry will have to continually put safeguards in place to try and shield against this sort of eventuality – and we don’t really know how driverless cars will work when deployed freely on our streets – but the first time it does happen, it’ll be a Hollywood script in the making.

    Could it happen now? Potentially, but it’s not likely. Will it happen one day? Almost definitely. But perhaps without the Hollywood gore – we all know that the window would bounce back down if your arm was stuck in it.

    When it does, you can come back here and option the movie rights from me directly. I called it first.

    But what will it be called? Uncontrollable? Braking Point?

    Feel free to leave your suggestions below.

    Image credit: Michael Bou-Nacklie / Shutterstock.com

    Read next: This story of a hacked Jeep is quite frankly terrifying

    Featured image credit: Google