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Car Hacked?!? From GPS to Brakes, A Look at What’s Vulnerable

GPS tracking device to illustrate GPS tracking software

As if worrying about the vulnerability of your computer and identity theft protection wasn’t enough, could your car be the next target? Can hackers access your car’s controls by hacking into the internet connected entertainment system of your automobile to tamper with your steering and breaks?

It’s not a far-fetched scenario. It’s the near-term future hackers are warning motorists about.

As modern cars evolve, and more computers control your vehicle’s every function, there’s now a present danger to new high-tech automobiles: it makes them vulnerable to hackers. Consider the following:

•    50 to 100 mini processers control your vehicle’s brakes, steering, acceleration, and on some cars models, even the horn.
•    Every electronic part inside a car is connected to a central spine, much like the human central nervous system which means, if you can get into one system of the vehicle, you can most likely get into another.
•    The computer code currently in most cars is outdated and can easily be manipulated.
“Auto manufacturers are not up to speed,” said Ed Adams, a researcher at Security Innovation, a company that tests the safety of automobiles. “They’re just behind the times. Car software is not built to the same standards as, say, a bank application or software coming out of Microsoft.”
“The vulnerabilities that we found were the kind that existed on PCs in the early to mid-1990s, when computers were first getting on the Internet,” says Stefan Savage, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who did extensive research on car hacking. “We could have turned the brakes off. We could have killed the engine. We could have engaged the brakes,” he said.

What kind of threat this poses for auto insurance companies? Only time will tell.

The good news however is that experts believe that common criminals won’t be able to seize control of automobiles anytime soon, as it would currently take too much time, money, and expertise, and there isn’t a huge financial incentive for hackers just yet. . “All the malware attacks consumers are faced with every day have financial motives behind them,” says Ryan Smith, a principal researcher with Accuvant Labs who finds vulnerabilities in computer systems.

As cars start to rely more on wireless systems – such as Bluetooth wireless technology- your car can become more vulnerable to car hacking attacks. For now security is in the hands of car manufacturers who are currently working to address these problems. So, until they figure it out, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:

•    Familiarize yourself with your cars wireless system. Find out if the systems can be operated remotely with some sort of GPS Tracking Software. Review your cars owner’s manual or check online.
•    Take your car to reputable repair shops and dealers for any maintenance or fixes. It’s possible for dishonest repair shops to manipulate your car’s computer system to make it appear that you need services and repaired that aren’t really needed. Do some research before taking your car to get serviced.
•    If you’re using OnStar, protect your password. Since OnStar can remotely unlock the car or shut-off the engine if reported stolen, there’s potential for mischief if your password falls into the wrong hands.
•    Beware of after-market devices. Many don’t go through rigorous testing and can make you more vulnerable experts say.

Remember, hacking a car isn’t easy, so even though your car may be vulnerable, experts say there is no reason to be alarmed. There are plenty of other things motorists should be worried about than potential car hackers, like having the proper car insurance.

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