Hackers May Soon Control Your Car, Report Says

Dennis Faas's picture

Do you have an on-board computer system in your vehicle that's connected to the Internet? If so, then you might be at risk for a potentially devastating cyber attack by hackers, says a recent scientific study.

"We demonstrate the ability to adversarially [sic] control a wide range of automotive functions and completely ignore driver input -- including disabling the brakes, selectively braking individual wheels on demand, stopping the engine, and so on," says a new report by scientists from the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego. (Source: nytimes.com)

Vehicle Computers Unprepared for Hackers

The paper, which is being prepared for an upcoming computer security conference in Oakland, is called "Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile." It provides some startling news: for one, modern cars, which have received incredibly detailed and advanced computer systems to help with safety and navigation, have been provided almost no tools for preventing a computer invasion by hackers, who have the power to take over a network of computers and remotely control a vehicle.

According to Stefan Savage, a scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and a contributor to the study, the advancement of automobile computers is moving so fast that no one seems to be giving much thought to computer security.

"We noticed the extent to which automobiles were becoming computerized," Savage said, adding "We found ourselves thinking we should try to get in front of this before it suddenly becomes an issue."

Engine, Brakes Remotely Affected

Researchers involved in the study tested two late model cars (whose brand and make they would not identify), and found they could remotely activate dozens of different functions while the car was in drive. Instrument panel, engine, brakes -- features affecting all of these components and others were activated by the researchers. (Source: businessweek.com)

The report aims to change the way the automotive industry thinks about vehicle safety. "Taken together, ubiquitous computer control, distributed internal connectivity, and telematics interfaces increasingly combine to provide an application software platform for external network access," the researchers note in the report.

"There are thus ample reasons to reconsider the state of the vehicular computer security."

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