Hacking car computers an emerging threat, experts warn

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on February 14, 2012 at 12:08 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 14 at 8:23 AM

DALLAS - A quarter of a billion cars drive U.S. roadways, and these days, computers run most all of them.

But experts warn hackers might not be far behind.

"I think it's very likely in the future, if we don't do some things now," said Jeff Farr, an Information Technology strategist.

Hacking computers in cars is not a far-fetched idea.

Two years ago, Austin police arrested Omar Ramos-Lopez for disabling the engines in 100 vehicles.

Farr said hackers could plug directly into your car's computer, or hypothetically, they could access it wirelessly using the remote or Bluetooth.

To prove the vulnerability, researchers even loaded a bug into one car's computer using a music CD.

"When they put the CD into the player, it allowed them to get to the braking system," Farr said. "I'm not sure they were able to do anything to the braking system, but they got there. That's the big deal here."

The fear is that hackers could compromise your car, shut off the engine or disable other safety features.

Right now, the likelihood of this remains low, but other experts also warn it's an emerging threat as cars continue to advance and rely a lot more on computers and technology.

At least three major studies by McAfee, the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego issued similar warnings recently.

Before selling your car, Farr suggests drivers also wipe their car's computers clean and delete contacts and GPS locations like your home, work and child's school.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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