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How to Keep Your Car's Doors Closed...to Hackers

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When you buy a car, the last thing you expect is for its on-board computer system to be hacked before you've even had a chance to break in your custom driving gloves.

In the good old days, all we car owners had to worry about was keeping the paint job looking fresh, programming the radio buttons, and making sure the doors were locked once we'd parked and wandered off, humming to Led Zeppelin. Yes, cars were stolen. But more often than not, the methods used to boost cars were crude, traceable and, occasionally, down to owners not employing appropriate security measures.

Nowadays, though, the security of a car has become a high-tech issue.

Considering the sophistication of modern cars' electronic control units (ECUs), it's entirely possible that anyone armed with an evil grin, malevolent intentions and computer programming expertise could commandeer your vehicle--not physically, of course, but a hacker could change the radio station from Classic Hits to Hot Country (nooooo!)--and, more seriously, even control whether your brakes do their job.

Although this may sound like a modern version of Knight Rider, the ramifications are a lot less thrilling. Another example: The power locking function of your vehicle connects to other parts of the car's system, which means the doors can lock automatically when the car is in motion, and unlock if the keys have been locked inside. Frighteningly, though, the system can be penetrated, which could allow an accomplished hacker to force the car to increase its speed.

Thankfully, there have been no cases reported of any such hackings--but a demonstration conducted by researchers affiliated with the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security has shown how ALL of a car's fundamental systems can be taken over by plugging a device into the on-board diagnostics port under the dash.

A sobering thought, huh?

What's more, with almost every American car manufacturer offering Bluetooth or WiFi as a feature, it's predicted that revenue from cars' wireless devices will jump from $2.5bn to $25bn in the next ten years. So most crucially, unless security tightens, the computerized networks so prevalent in all of our cars are as vulnerable as a tire driving over a pile of nails.

How to keep your vehicle safe from harm

So how should you protect your vehicle from ruthless hackers?

First of all, it's crucial to keep on top of new security threats and understand how they could affect the car you drive. Make sure you have the latest update to your car's on-board computer, be conscious of any recalls that the manufacturer may have made, and send your vehicle in for a regular servicing.

McAfee, with support from Intel, currently is working on addressing the problem, developing partnerships that will help to deliver new securities in the cars we drive. They are working directly with car manufacturers to detect areas where vehicles' computer systems are weak and where security measures can be implemented to address those faults.

Considering the global obsession with technology, our cars no doubt will come to rely on computerized systems, and more sophisticated security measures will also become commonplace. However, if you're not quite ready to give up your 1989 Honda Civic, it's unlikely you'll have to pay close attention to what I just said. But whatever may be on the road ahead for us drivers, it's important to keep up to date with the latest threats to our security--things KITT never even saw coming.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! See him knock'em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailaddress -to 411247

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