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Cyber attack: are our vehicles at risk?

By Joe Hewitson / June 19, 2013

The threat of a cyber attack casts a dark cloud over our increasingly electronic lives. With our society’s insatiable need to be connected 24/7, cyber criminals are finding a trove of lucrative targets in our homes and pockets, including our garages.

As car manufacturers race to bring modern technology to the automotive industry, hackers wait to see how they can use these innovations to their devious advantage. If automakers want to prevent these digital intrusions, they’re going to have to think like a consumer.

A new era of car thieves

Although technology makes our vehicles easier to drive, it also makes them easier to hack. The advent of in-dash computers, keyless entry and remote starters has created more avenues for car break-ins. Gone are the simple days of Slim Jims and hot wiring. A recent AOL Autos article shows just how easy it can be for this new breed of car thief to access your automobile.

What’s in it for the cyber criminals?

It’s bad enough to exit the grocery store to find that your car’s been stolen, but what if your bank account was emptied as well?

As cars become smarter, they’ll require more of our personal information like addresses, phone numbers and maybe even credit card numbers. It sounds crazy, but that’s what people used to say about their telephone. Never underestimate the things people will share for the sake of convenience.

Sophisticated cyber thieves could also use your car as a portal to ransack your smartphone, tablet or other wireless device. Worried? You should be. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) felt threatened enough to open a new office just for motor vehicle cyber crime.

Car tech isn’t all vroom and doom

There may be a growing threat of a cyber attack, but there’s also an increased ability to catch these criminals in the act. The proliferation of GPS and other tracking technologies makes it easier for the authorities to hunt down your car before thieves can drive it to the chop shop.

So what’s an automaker to do?

If car manufacturers want to keep their game-changing innovations from becoming tools for cyber criminals, they need to keep their security measures as advanced as their dashboards. One viable way to protect cars is through biometrics. Some biometric security measures include fingerprint scans, voice detection and retina identification.

Moto-hacking may be relatively unheard of at the moment, but it’s something to keep in mind for your next concept car. If a vehicle has the same computing capabilities as your tablet or phone, it shares the same susceptibilities as well.