Car viruses? Intel aims to protect drivers from hackers

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As high-technology continues to creep into horseless carriages everywhere, there's one thing we can all count on: abuse of that technology. According to Reuters, Intel's "top hackers" are on the case though, poring over the software which powers the fanciest of automobile technology in hopes of discovering (and dashing) various bugs and exploits.

Except under the most specific of scenarios, the damaging results from an attack against an unsuspecting user's personal computer are often limited. Hackers may be able to cripple a computer, invade a user's privacy or even steal someone's identity. Causing personal injury or death though, is typically out of the question. However, with an increasing amount of technology and software proliferating modern vehicles, this could all change. 

"You can definitely kill people," asserts John Bumgarner, CTO of a non-profit which calls itself the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit.

As outlined in the following publication, Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile (pdf), researchers have already shown that a clever virus is capable of releasing or engaging brakes on a whim, even at high speeds. Such harrowing maneuvers could potentially extinguish the lives of both its occupants and others involved in the resulting accident. On certain vehicles, researchers were also able to lock and unlock doors, start and disable the engine and toggle the headlights off and on.

Ford spokesman Alan Hall assures us, "Ford is taking the threat very seriously and investing in security solutions that are built into the product from the outset". Ford has been an industry leader in adopting advanced automotive technologies.

Thus far, there have been no reported incidents of injury or death caused by automobile hacking. That's according to SAE International, a major standards committee for automotive and aerospace industries.

When asked by Reuters whether or not there had been any such reports, most manufacturers declined to comment. However, McAfee executive Bruce Snell claims that automakers are still very concerned about it. Snell admits, "I don't think people need to panic now. But the future is really scary." McAfee, which is now owned by Intel, is the division of Intel investigating automobile cyber security.

For more details regarding the state of technology in automobiles and what researchers have found so far, readers can check out this FAQ.

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