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Making Cars More Hacker-Proof

Researchers show how to infiltrate autos and control brakes, steering

Computer security companies and researchers have dedicated a lot of time and money to testing the virtual padlocks on your online accounts. Some are now focusing on a new threat vector: your car. “Hacking into your banking account and stripping your identity from your account is a big issue,” says Jack Pokrzywa, director of ground vehicle standards for SAE International in Troy, Mich., an automotive trade group that develops industry guidelines. “This happens to be a moving object.”

And it’s one that can be infiltrated with distressing ease, according to recent studies. Researchers led by Stefan Savage at the University of California, San Diego and Tadayoshi Kohno at the University of Washington succeeded in infiltrating automotive computer systems that are standard in every new car and truck. In lab and road tests, they found ways to activate a car’s brakes, stop its engine, and control lights and locks, all remotely. The findings have “raised the alert” of the industry, says Pokrzywa.