Spider problems cause Mazda to recall 42,000 cars for software update

Security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek realize that while you might be interested in car hacking, you probably do not have DARPA-funded vehicles for testing. Miller told Forbes, "We figured out ways you can basically buy the electronics from eBay, set them up on a bench, wire them up and do the research attacks against those pieces without buying the car." If that sounds good to you, then you’ll need the duo’s free guide Car Hacking: For Poories.

They are not the only people concerned with finding potential security and privacy weaknesses in our ever-increasingly-connected vehicles. Last week we looked at other research involving an untraceable $20 device that can allow an attacker to control a car from miles away. As more researchers take an interest in car-hacking, we’re likely to see more and more ways to exploit our vehicles, their embedded devices, software, or even the data collected.

Yet if you are tech-minded and hear that a “spider” problem can be fixed with “software”… is a car the first thing that comes to mind? This strange, creepy and reoccurring problem is with the eight-legged, mildly venomous variety of spider, causing Mazda to issue a recall notice for 42,000 vehicles.

Mazda issues recall for yellow sac spider problem, will reprogram Mazda6 with modified software

The yellow sac spider is attracted to the smell of gasoline, explained BBC. The spider “will weave its web in engines, causing a blockage and build-up of pressure.” That stress might cause a crack in the fuel tank and fuel could potentially leak. An increased risk of fire is the reason Mazda issued the voluntary recall. The fix? “A software update will be applied to recalled cars to monitor the pressure level and warn drivers of any danger.”

The Mazda recall, posted on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) site, states:

Mazda North America Operations (Mazda) is recalling certain model year 2010-2012 Mazda6 vehicles manufactured September 14, 2009, through May 2, 2011, and equipped with 2.5L engine. In the affected vehicles, spiders may weave a web in the evaporative canister vent hose, blocking it and causing the fuel tank to have an excessive amount of negative pressure. 

Supporting documentation (pdf) added, “Upon inspection/repair, the canister vent line will be cleaned and when there is a web in the canister vent line, the fuel tank and the check valve on the canister vent line will be replaced with new one. Furthermore the Powertrain Control Module will be reprogrammed with modified software to minimize negative pressure in the fuel tank.”

The New York Times pointed out that Mazda had the same spider problem in 2011 when it recalled 52,000 Mazda6 sedans. When the Times asked why the spiders are causing so much trouble, a Mazda spokesman said, "Don't ask me, I'm terrified of the damn things."

Last year, Toyota recalled about 803,000 vehicles in the U.S. due to spider problems; specifically that the “spider webs might clog a drain hole and cause a water backup that could damage electronic components and cause the air bags to deploy.” Installing a protective cover, not software, was the remedy.

Just last week, Mazda said it would recall 88,000 vehicles to fix a programming glitch in “Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-5 models manufactured between October 2012 and January 2014.” The glitch, according to Reuters, is in the engine control computer program “that checks whether the capacitor, a part of the brake energy regeneration system, is functioning properly.”

Vehicle recalls happen all the time, from all different automakers, but potentially fixing a spider issue with updated software seemed really strange. Resources such as Car Hacking: For Poories will mean more researchers will take an interest in hacking cars. If the recall due to potential arachnid infestation was “scary,” can you imagine being notified that your vehicle is recalled due a “hacking” threat?

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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