25 May 2010

Could A Criminal #Hack Your Car's Computer?

by David Teeghman
Fri May 21, 2010 09:03 AM ET 

Computer criminals used to focus on hacking into desktop and laptop computers. However, their next target may not be in your house, but in your garage: your car.

Researchers at the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security have found that the internal computer systems in today’s vehicles are susceptible to hackers’ attacks. Without any special knowledge about the cars, researchers were able to take control of the door locks, disable the brakes and even stop its engine, among other things.

Today’s cars are more dependent than ever on computers to perform basic functions, they do everything from wipe the windshield to maintain tire pressure. Researchers say the typical luxury sedan just rolling off the assembly line has about 100 megabytes of code to control 50 to 70 computers inside the car. Some luxury cars have 100 million lines of software code, compared to only 1.7 million lines on a U.S. Air Force jet fighter.

The good news is that a car’s computers are usually under the dashboard, so a hacker would have to break into the car manually in order to get anywhere near them. (Unless you are Yves Behar, and in that case, you WANT people to hack your car.)
Hackers might not be willing to go to such lengths to take control of a car, but a skilled computer criminal (which may be a better description, since not all hackers are criminals) can still compromise a car’s computer system remotely by sneaking in through the car’s wireless entry points.

Those wireless entry points include satellite radios and automatic crash-response systems, and the number of wireless connections to a car’s computer system are rapidly expanding, with the advent of 4G, dashboard Internet services and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications

Once a hacker is inside the car’s internal network, there are few defenses. Electronic connections between components are linked for safety reasons. For example, car doors pop open when a airbags are activated. But that connection makes it easier for a hacker to make his way from one computer to the next.

Researchers say that as they learn more about the threats, their ability to fight hackers will improve. But for now, your car may be vulnerable crimes mainly associated with the Internet.