Vandalism != Hacking.

There’s a certain type of person – and I’m sure everyone knows someone like this – that deals with you having something they don’t by trashing that thing. “Oh, you have the iPhone 11 Pro? That’s nice, bro, but the Pixel camera is better.” “New Mac Pro? Apple hardware is way overpriced. You got ripped off, idiot.” “Nice car? Yeah, well my Corolla has much better gas mileage. And anyway, only morons buy domestic.”

There’s no point and zero profit engaging with these people, and the older I get the easier it is to step back, dip into a little empathy, and realize that there’s a lot of complex emotional baggage being shunted around there that has a lot to do with need and want and envy and self-worth, and that someone disapproving of your choices is in no way an invalidation of those choices. And really, most of the time the people who engage with you like this aren’t terrible people. Let it go. Move on with your day. Life’s too short.

The exception I’ll make – the thing that causes me to frown and shake my head and engage – is inaccuracy and flat-out manipulation of the facts. Which brings me to the gloating text message I got this morning from a friend, linking me to this Technology Review article about how Teslas can be hacked:

Hackers have manipulated multiple Tesla cars into speeding up by 50 miles per hour. The researchers fooled the car’s Mobileye EyeQ3 camera system by subtly altering a speed limit sign on the side of a road in a way that a person driving by would almost never notice.

Go on, read the article if you’re interested, but if you’re not then I’ll give you the tl;dr – notably that “hackers” discovered that if you alter a speed limit road sign then the camera in the Tesla will read a 35 mph speed limit as an 85 mph speed limit, and when in Autopilot mode will accelerate as appropriate to hit that speed limit (assuming that there are no other vehicles on the road). Said “Hackers” were in the employ of… wait for it… McAfee. Who I’m sure are smart and law-abiding folks, but my personal opinion is that if you’re looking for Chicken Little-types for the modern age then antivirus companies are right at the top of the heap. When your entire business depends on scaring people into using your product and trying to get them to distrust technology then it’s hard to wave a flag of impartiality with this kind of stuff.

Still, this is bad. But it’s not hacking. Hacking would be in directly compromising the computer system in the car, allowing a bad actor access to the mechanisms of control that govern the way the car behaves. Altering a road sign is vandalism, pure and simple. The moment you’re grabbing paint and tape and tinkering around with something by the side of the road is the moment that you’re compromising the world at large, not just one device. If I paint a perfect counterfeit “STOP” sign at the intersection near my house then the entities in charge of the locomotion of the vehicles that approach that sign – human or computer alike – are going to stop.

Now, this whole thing on my end might smack of a certain degree of Get-Off-My-Lawniness, but the fact remains that words have a function and a duty, and as cloying and picayune as the distinction may seem to be it’s nevertheless one worth observing. Hacking is an involved task – sometimes noble, sometimes criminal – but a deliberate and calculated action requiring forethought and execution and carried out with specific intent.

This, though? This is just criminally, irresponsibly dumb; an act that proves… nothing. There’s nothing intelligent or thought-provoking in it, and nothing that indicates a deficiency in the system that is unique and peculiar to that system. It’s not a hack; at best it’s ruinously irresponsible fear-mongering based on a tortured, twisted version of the truth.

At worst? It’s a fiction based on a lie.