Computer hacking kills. Researchers declared that cars equipped with electronic communications systems and computers are vulnerable to hacking and viruses, which could translate to crashes while on the road.
Reuters reported that a special team employed by Intel is looking into software and hardware vulnerabilities in modern cars that could allow access to hackers to take control of vehicles. Barnaby Jack, a director of research at security consulting firm IOActive Labs, who became famous when he announced that he could make an ATM machine dispense money to anyone and to cause medical equipment to pump lethal doses of insulin to patients, is one of the members of the group.
Another research group demonstrated a simple method of infecting a car with a malware by using nothing but a CD. When the victim plays the CD, the malware is activated and jumped from the CD to the computer system of the car. While infecting the car radio is not life threatening at all, the code executed after running the CD can gain access to other important systems of the car itself.
In a demonstration, the researchers showed how serious a CD-delivered malware labeled “Self Destruct” can potentially cause harm. After the car was infected, the code took control of other systems and showed a timer on the car’s dashboard, apparently running a countdown. When the counter hit zero, the malware shut down the lights on the car, killed the engine, locked the doors, and released or apply on the brakes at will.
Researchers also said that car viruses can be utilized for more subtle use. One example they mentioned was to use it to remotely listen on conversations inside the car. It’s like a Hollywood-style trick but could come in handy for use for government spying or corporate espionage.
White hats, a term used for hackers working for security firms and government agencies, are always on the lookout for security vulnerabilities that have beleaguered the computer industry for decades now. Right now, the focus of security researchers are on products like medical equipment, cars, and electricity meters that use tiny computers embedded in each unit.
Modern automobiles are already considered “computers on wheels” by security experts and it’s only a matter of time before their vulnerabilities will be exploited widely. Today’s cars are filled with small computers known as electronic control units or ECUs that needs a very sophisticated set of codes to manage interconnected systems like brakes, engines, navigation, entertainment, and lighting. They are also employing technologies common to mobile devices such as Bluetooth headsets and cell phones, making them vulnerable to remote attacks widely known among black hats or criminal hackers.
Security experts fear that terrorists, criminals, and spies will turn their attention to embedded computers, which can be attacked using similar techniques as common computers.
One particular issue for concern was how to fight the transfer of PC viruses that could affect the computers in a car when laptops and other devices are plugged into entertainment systems of cars.