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How hackers could take control of your car

 article about How hackers could take control of your car
About the author: Nigel Cawley is a freelance writer and classic car enthusiast. When he's not writing about the latest motoring news, he's looking for Dronsfields for his current restoration project.

It may sound like the premise of a terrible Hollywood blockbuster but the idea that your vehicle could be taken over by hackers is growing ever more likely. Whilst there are still no reported cases of car-jacking as yet, a paper due to be published later this year plans to discuss how automobiles have become ever more vulnerable to malicious intent in line with the evolution of vehicles' electronic systems.

With computers now readily accessible through wireless networks, cars are no longer closed systems. Simply by plugging an OBD-II port under the dashboard or tricking drivers into listening to malicious music files or CDs, hackers could take control over the car's systems and mess with everything from the clutch to the song playing on the stereo. The in-car communications system which links all the independently operating computers on the car together, could easily become an epicentre of destruction if hackers were to successfully exploit built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or mobile phone connections.

Because they are concealed, often people give little thought to the many microcomputers helping to operate every function of their car from how it accelerates to how it brakes. But the reality is, because none of these microsystems are isolated, researchers have shown that hackers would easily be able to manipulate every thing from a car's GPRS signals to its SMS signals. This would enable them to alter everything from the car's tire pressure systems to its engine.

Whilst the difficulty and cost of tracking vulnerable vehicles currently reduces the incentive for criminals to pursue auto hacking wide scale, there is concern that hackers will use attacks like this to build up their reputations. Largely, the security of a person's vehicle is down to the measures put in place by its manufacturers. Many big name car brands are working hard to protect their products against hacking by building firewalls into networks, severing the links between on-board computer networks and building up further security technology.

Whilst this is certainly good news for future vehicle owners that is not to say that nothing can be done to protect models currently on the market. Indeed, if you own an older vehicle, there are still a few simple steps you can take to reduce the vulnerability of your car.

Firstly, always go to reputable repair shops. Although this is a pretty standard piece of advice, corrupt mechanics can all to easily tinker with a car's computer systems, charge for false repairs or even leave a car vulnerable to further attacks on its microcomputer network. Don't take unnecessary risks in the desire to cut costs.

Secondly, find out exactly what wireless systems your car has. This might be more transparent in newer car models but it doesn't mean it is impossible to find out about older ones. Read your manual or go online and see which of your car systems are vulnerable to interception. If you do already have security options enabled like remote shut down, don't leave documents or key passwords for their deactivation in the car. Once you have ensured you have protected your information, you should also ask your seller how secure these systems are from the advances of spiteful hackers.


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