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High-Tech Features Can Make Your Car A Target For Hackers

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Dashboard of a vehicle being hacked. (Source: CBS4)

Dashboard of a vehicle being hacked. (Source: CBS4)

David-Sutta-600x450 David Sutta
David Sutta joined the CBS4 news team in April of 2007. As S...
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — High-tech features like crash avoidance systems and auto-assisted parking are convenient options for anybody in the market for a new car, but they are also leading to a new series of concerns.

Imagine if those features allowed someone else to remotely take over your steering wheel, brakes, or warning lights. The practice is called car hacking and it may only be a matter of time before someone uses it to do something malicious.

Chris Valasek hacks computers and exposes security risks for a living. He says today’s cars give him a lot to work with.

“I can tell you you’re going 199-mph now even though that’s quite apparently not the case,” he said.

Valasek and his partner can hack into a car’s electronic control units and take over the vehicle. Some cars have more than 30 of the tiny computers inside of them.

“We were able to take control of the brakes, the steering wheel, the headlamps, the seat belts we could tighten them,” he said, “We could engage the brakes and no matter what you did you couldn’t move the car.”

For a demonstration Valasek was plugged directly into the dashboard with a laptop computer.

“So, imagine being able to exploit these remotely and stopping a whole series of cars during rush hour,” he said, “You could remotely wreck someone, or remotely stop the car.”

Remote access is a danger that researchers are looking at especially as car makers stuff even more technology into their vehicles, even their tires.

Tire pressure monitors have been required in most cars since 2008. Marco Gruteser was able to hack the pressure monitors and researchers were able to capture the monitor signal and trigger a dashboard warning light.

“And make the car think the tires are flat when they are not,” Gruteser said.

Low tire pressure may be the least of drivers’ concerns.

“Theoretically it is possible to cause accidents,” Gruteser explained.

Some people think that it may have already happened. LAPD investigators ruled out foul play after a controversial journalist was killed in a fiery one-car wreck, but a former terror adviser to President Bush speculated that the accident was consistent with car-hacking.

“Governments, nation states, they definitely have the resources to do things like that. Probably criminal organizations as well,” Valasek said.

Researchers say car makers need to step on it, to stay a step ahead of the hackers. Auto makers have said that they are aware of the danger and are working to make car electronics more secure.

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