Can Your Car be Hacked?

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Jake Fisher, Director of Consumer Reports Auto Testing, says most of the systems in your car are actually controlled by a computer: "Today's cars are basically computers on wheels. Computers control basically everything, the engine, the suspension, the seats, the mirrors even the air-conditioning."

But with all of these computers, could the security of your system be compromised? Consumer Reports got to experience a controlled hack by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as it researches car security. The demonstration showed how Consumer Reports Auto Editor, Mark Rechtin, was left helpless at the wheel by NHTSA's Frank Barickman. With a laptop hardwired to the car, he took control of the horn, seatbelts and even the car's brakes and steering. Rechtin exclaimed, "My hands aren't leaving the wheel. Wow. The seatbelt pre-tensioner is going. The fan is going full blast. The horn's going. The windows are going up and down all at once. It's quite the haunted car." NHTSA's Barickman takes car security seriously, "I believe it is a matter of not if, when. Someone could possibly do something nefarious to the vehicle."

While this may sound unsettling, Consumer Reports' Jake Fisher says this isn't a reason to panic: "The benefits of these computers, they far outweigh the risks. This is not a reason to run out and buy a computer-less, twenty year old car." The experts at Consumer Reports stress that at this point, hacking can be done only with a computer that has been hardwired into the car and by someone with intimate knowledge of the car's software. Consumer Reports will be following NHTSA's research as the government tries to stay ahead of hackers, making sure that something like this will never happen to you.
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