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Hacking an Automobile

The day has come. A hacker can now drive your car.

It is frightening enough knowing one's computer is able to be hacked. The knowledge that you might be sitting in front of your computer surfing the internet and be subjected to a premeditated attack where all control over your device is lost is constantly weighed with checks and balances that involve investments in anti-viruses and firewalls. The ability of hackers to send spam emails through refrigerators, door locks, thermostats etc. has gone from a possibility to a reality. Basically anything with a computer chip is susceptible to a hacker attack. But now, your car is also on the list of being at risk.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop someone with computer-hacking skills and a dose of malicious intent from remotely taking control of an automobile through its telematics system. That's right. You may be at the wheel inside your vehicle but the hacker will be driving the car.

There are a variety of ways someone can hack into your vehicle, either remotely or by installing mechanisms on the car itself. Any electronic mechanism in the car is susceptible; from the anti-lock brakes, to cruise-control, tire pressure systems and especially blue-tooth enabled vehicles with navigation systems or GPS.

In a study commissioned by the Pentagon, researchers illustrated how hackers were able to get in and “cause cars to suddenly accelerate, turn, and kill the brakes.” The video above demonstrates how hackers were able to hijack both a Prius and an Explorer. They can affect the physical mechanisms of the car as well as its electronic readings; like the actual speed the car is traveling or the pressure reading of the tires.

Remote attacks to someone's vehicle would involve a certain proximity of the hackers to the vehicle itself. However, if someone accesses the car, they could potentially install software that disables certain systems. The Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security demonstrated how it is possible to take over all of a car’s vital systems by simply plugging a device into the OBD-II port under the dashboard.

There are no "anti-viruses" for vehicles. Until technology advances to protect drivers and the Automobile Industry is willing to install protections while the vehicle is being assembled, anyone with a CD player in their vehicle is at risk and potentially at the mercy of some individual behind a computer.

The fact the Government commissioned a study lends credibility to the very real possibility that one day, while driving down the road, your car may be turning left and accelerating while you planned to turn right and hit the brakes. Your car is even more vulnerable than your computer because there are no protections to install or updates to purchase on the latter to keep your vehicle invincible during travel.

Until the Industry catches up to the hackers harboring ill intent or Government safety regulations prevail, perhaps it's safer riding a bike or driving a '67 Ford Fairlane. That car may be old but there's something to the notion my father always said when he was under the hood, "They just don't make them like they used to". Perhaps that is a good thing. It isn't able to park itself and doesn't have cruise control. It isn't blue-tooth enabled and you have to crank the windows up and down with your own blood, sweat and tears. However, one thing is for certain: No hacker has access to that car. Only my father will be driving it down the road.

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