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Will hacking into car systems soon be an everyday concern?

By Leigh Goessl     Sep 5, 2013 in Technology
Hackers have recently been demonstrating how they can take control of a car from a distance. All that's needed is some know-how and a laptop or even a smartphone.
Car hacking is seemingly becoming a very real concern. Over the past several years, a segment of the security industry has been discussing issues associated with car hacking, dating back to at least 2010. While perhaps once sounding far-fetched, in today's world, exploiting and taking over cars appears to be a real possibility.
According to recent media reports, hackers once again showed how they can exploit vulnerabilities in a car system. Modern cars and trucks contain dozens of computers. Estimates given are anywhere between 20 to 70 computers within any given car system. Each of these mini-computers has a specialized function, be it the vehicle's brake and steering systems down to its radio.
The hackers, who all say they executed the hacks to draw attention to problems so automakers could address them, pulled off the hacks in a variety of methods. One group plugged into a port mechanics use to diagnose problems in cars. Another group of hackers exploited cars by using cellphones and Bluetooth.
The hacks demonstrated were not simple ones and it took a lot of effort to complete, however, the end result showed it could be accomplished. At this time, there have been no reports of "real world" hacking, but will this change?
“The more technology they add to the vehicle, the more opportunities there are for that to be abused for nefarious purposes,” says Rich Mogull, CEO of Phoenix-based Securosis, a security research firm, reported the Tennessean. “Anything with a computer chip in it is vulnerable, history keeps showing us.”
While some of the functions exploited would not result in injury or damage to the car, others are more serious.
"We could control steering, braking, acceleration to a certain extent, seat belts, lights, horn, speedometer, gas gauge," said Chris Valasek, director of intelligence at a Pittsburgh computer security consulting firm, who was involved with one of the demonstrations.
Another hacker engaged in one of the demonstrations appears to agree.
"We could have turned the brakes off. We could have killed the engine. We could have engaged the brakes," said Stefan Savage, a UCSD computer science professor. Savage said he and other researchers managed to control nearly everything but the car's steering.
Makes you wonder what else on a car can be hacked that hasn't yet been discovered, doesn't it?
Experts also suggest being able to hack cars could result in higher occurrences of theft, either of possessions inside the car or the car itself. Then there is the concern over car computer viruses.
Various carmakers have said they have added safeguards and securities to prevent exploits, however, will these strategies be enough as computers are more heavily relied upon, especially as the imminent autonomous car arrives?
With technology becoming more and more integrated with motor vehicles, while car hacking is not happening in the "real world" at this point, at sometime in the future the stakes may be higher. At that time, some hackers may turn their attention away from exploiting Facebook, email or bank accounts and potentially set their sights on different kinds of horizons.
Once upon a time cellphones were not targets, but as reports indicate, that illicit market continues to grow. Could car hacks someday be included in these statistics? If recent demonstrations are any indicator, probably so.
Related reading:
Car hacking tricks revealed at Las Vegas hacking conference, August 2013
British court puts academic paper outlining car hacking on hold, August 2013
More about Hacking, car hacking, car vulnerabilities, Computers, car computers