Research on Potential Car Hacking

Computer Science professors from a few different universities in the US have conducted research to look further into the safety of automobiles as the industry becomes more and more invested in computer technology.  Their concern is that, as more and more parts of cars become controlled by computer software, hackers will be tempted to tamper with vehicles from remote locations.  This would obviously be very dangerous to the public.

Stefan Savage, of the University of California, San Diego, and Yoshi Kohno of the University of Washington have expressed their concerns.  They relate the issue to computer hackers who hack personal computers: “When people first started connecting their PCs to the Internet, there wasn’t any threat and then over time it manifests.  The automotive industry, I think, has the benefit of the experience of what we went through.”

Savage and Kohno presented their research at a computer security conference recently.  The two were able to “bypass rudimentary network security protections within the car” and “adversarially 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.”

In a more recent study, they were able to compromise the vehicle’s security remotely, using Bluetooth, mechanics tools, and audio files.  They were even able to take complete control over a car by placing a call to the vehicles cell phone number and compromising it completely.

The auto industry has taken notice and there has been a panel formed to investigate the issue and set some standards for the auto producers to follow.  Researchers do not want to alarm anyone, and say that the chances of vehicles being hacked are very low.  It took Savage and Kohno over two years to accomplish what they did, and many of their hacks had to be a coordinated team effort.  Still, the fact that it can be done is alarming.


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