Spring on the Road

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Connected cars potentially vulnerable

Recent incidents of vehicles being hacked have shed light on the potential vulnerability of connected cars. Hackers have been able to gain access to critical vehicle functions, even while the car or truck is on the road.

The vulnerability of connected cars, which are vehicles equipped with Internet access and often a wireless local area network, is a cause for concern among manufacturers and drivers. Drivers and passengers in connected cars can connect to Web-based services and share Internet access with other devices both inside and outside of the vehicle, but at what cost to their safety and security?

Connected cars were designed to provide various helpful functions, such as roadside assistance and voice commands. According to a recent study by KPMG, the average new car contains 40 to 50 computers that run 20 million lines of software code, which is more than a Boeing 787.

The shortcomings in connected car security were revealed when researchers at two West Coast universities seized control of a General Motors car through cellular and Bluetooth connections in 2010. Potential criminals now may not even have to be close to a car to do damage or invade privacy. A malicious person with Internet access may be able to hack into a vehicle's computer system and make a vehicle accelerate or suddenly stop regardless of where the hacker is. In fact, earlier this year, overseas hackers used a laptop to commandeer a Jeep via the Internet.

Auto manufacturers have begun to address security issues in connected cars and provide greater protection against hackers. Many are now isolating entertainment features from critical functions like braking and steering. Security experts have advised the auto industry to build computer systems that recognize rogue commands and outside influence. Despite changes, it may not be possible to prevent all cyber attacks.

Drivers also may want to take steps to avoid hacking, which boils down to driving a simpler car without all of the bells and whistles.