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High-Tech Cars a New Playground for Hackers?

When we surf the web these days, it has become second nature for us to make sure that what we click on and download is virus-free. Though online security is more efficient than ever in combatting malware, most everyone has experienced a computer infection at least once. While the consequences of these viruses can be devastating (e.g. the hacking of confidential data leading to identity theft or bank account breaches), most of the time they are just a minor annoyance as long as they remain digital.

What would be the repercussions, however, if virus makers decided to attack cars with built-in computerized systems?

Nowadays, a high number of new cars carry integrated computers that manage different features of the cars. These systems are by definition nothing but lines of codes, which technically make them vulnerable to hackers. Engines, brakes, navigation systems, lighting, ventilation and even entertainment might be at risk and the consequences of an attack on one of these features could be much more tragic than the loss of your latest holiday pictures. If your laptop crashes you will have a bad day; if you car crashes or is stolen, that’s a much bigger set of problems.

Though big car manufacturers claim that it is almost impossible to hack these kinds of systems, researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Washington have already figured out how to hack into a modern car using just a laptop. Moreover, McAfee (a company constantly working on solutions to mitigate and prevent cyber-attacks) is also conducting research on the topic and assures that these hacks are possible and that car manufacturers are aware of this issue.

Considering that the physical security of human beings is at stake here, both automotive and cyber-defense industries need to be proactive and develop joint solutions to protect vehicles from potential criminal attacks. Going back to computer-less cars is impractical and probably impossible. Improving built-in computer security to stop hackers before they get a foothold will be the only way to go.

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