For the past six years, Volkswagen has been cheating on the emissions testing for its diesel cars. The cars’ computers were able to detect when they were being tested, and temporarily alter how their engines worked so they looked much cleaner than they actually were. When they weren’t being tested, they belched out 40 times the pollutants. Their CEO has resigned, and the company will face an expensive recall, enormous fines and worse. Cheating on regulatory testing has a long history in corporate America. It happens regularly in automobile emissions control and elsewhere. What’s important in the VW case is that the cheating was preprogrammed into the algorithm that controlled cars’ emissions. Computers allow people to cheat in ways that are new. Because the cheating is encapsulated in software, the malicious actions can happen at a far remove from the testing itself. Because the software is “smart” in ways that normal objects are not, the cheating can be subtler and harder to detect. We’ve already had examples of smartphone manufacturers cheating on processor benchmark testing: detecting when they’re being tested and artificially increasing their performance. We’re going to see this in other industries.
The Internet of Things is coming. Many industries are moving to add computers to their devices, and that will bring with it new opportunities for manufacturers to cheat. Light bulbs could fool regulators into appearing more energy efficient than they are. Temperature sensors could fool buyers into believing that food has been stored at safer temperatures than it has been. Voting machines could appear to work perfectly — except during the first Tuesday of November, when it undetectably switches a few percent of votes from one party’s candidates to another’s.
My worry is that some corporate executives won’t interpret the VW story as a cautionary tale involving just punishments for a bad mistake but will see it instead as a demonstration that you can get away with something like that for six years.
Full Article: VW scandal and cheating software – CNN.com.