Experts say increased use of computer systems with wireless connections to control certain aspects of a car could allow an attack to occur

Automobiles have become increasingly tech-heavy with entertainment and safety systems, which can offer a more convenient and overall pleasant driving experience. However, experts now worry that packing cars with too many electronic features can lead to the heightened risk of vehicle hacks.

Some universities and security companies have started verbalizing their concerns regarding vehicle hacks, saying that increased use of computer systems with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or OnStar connections to control certain aspects of a car could allow an attacker to deactivate brake systems, send fake warning signals to the driver and rob them when they pull over to check their car, or mess with other necessary components of the vehicle such as headlights, air bags, and cruise control.

For instance, a University of South Carolina study used one vehicle to send fake tire-pressure warning signals to another, which alerts that driver and usually causes them to pull over. The researchers concluded that someone could use this tactic to rob someone once they pull over and get out of the car.

Another study conducted by the University of California-San Diego and the University of Washington found that groups of vehicles could be forced to surrender their vehicle identification numbers and GPS coordinates, which could allow criminals to assess which vehicles are the most expensive. Once they've chosen a vehicle, they can track it down, disable alarms, unlock the car and start the engine easily via wireless commands.

Universities aren't the only ones revealing potential issues with vehicle systems. A McAfee report recently described an incident where a security tester was able to hack into police car cameras and delete, upload and download important files.

Warnings from universities and security experts have even reached the federal government, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) vows to look into the issue with automakers.

"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is aware of the potential for hackers and is working with automakers to better understand what steps can and are being taken to address the problem," said the NHTSA.

Some automakers, such as Chrysler and Ford, are onboard with figuring out ways around possible hacking issues after voicing their concerns. Automakers want to continue offering entertainment and safety systems in their vehicles, hence they want to investigate and work around the situation while still providing technologically advanced automobiles.

General Motors' (GM) Cadillac has already taken a step forward in upping its security systems in the 2012 Escalade. The new security features, which were announced last week, are specifically targeted to help prevent grand theft auto. Some of the new features include PASS Key 3+, an encryption system for the key; a robust steering column-lock system; an inclination sensor that sounds an alarm when the angle of the vehicle changes oddly, such as when it is towed; a shock sensor that would sound an alarm when the vehicle is "shocked," such as when a glass window is broken, and a new wheel lock system that protects wheels and tires.

"The goal is to make the Escalade a very difficult target for thieves without any added inconvenience for customers," said Bill Biondo, GM's global leader for vehicle theft prevention. "The new systems work in the background and few people realize they are there, but they are strong added protections."

While these added security systems will help, the question of what to do about hacking wireless systems and controlling the vehicle still remains. Some have even brought up the possibility of terrorist attacks, where groups of cars on a freeway could spontaneously lose their breaks and crash due to malicious software infecting the system.

Sources: The Detroit News, General Motors

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