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Cars can get connected to bad guys, too

Dave Guilford is Automotive News' Enterprise Editor.

There's an uneasy undercurrent to the growth of connected cars as it dawns on people that their movements will be easy to track.

But as I listened to Andre Weimerskirch, a cyber security expert, last week, I quickly became aware that privacy isn't the only issue.

"Research has shown that we can hack into your car and do most anything we want to your car," Weimerskirch, an associate research scientist at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, told a conference the institute was holding.

A hacker could control a car's steering, brakes and lights, he said. Weimerskirch predicted automotive hacking would follow the same progression as Internet hacking -- from nerd pranksters to serious criminal activity, like the theft of credit card information from Target Corp.

"If transportation cyber security follows the path of the Internet, we will see real-world cyber attacks within five years," he said.

Vulnerable points in a car include systems such as adaptive cruise control, parking assist and precrash braking, as well as telematics. As Weimerskirch put it, "Pretty much every interface the car has can be used to manipulate the car."

By this point, I was starting to wonder if I wanted to drive home. But he went on to say that central infotainment servers could be used to push malware into all vehicles connected to them. And the traffic infrastructure could also be hacked -- disabling traffic signals, or closing bridge and tunnel entrances (which might be handy in New Jersey politics).

Weimerskirch said automakers, governments and industry groups such as the Society of Automotive Engineers take the threat seriously and are developing security systems.

That's somewhat reassuring. Perhaps we will never have a plague of suddenly accelerating, misdirected cars on our streets.

But Weimerskirch did bring home one truth about connectivity. When you connect, you can't assume you're just connecting to the good stuff. You might connect to the bad guys, too.

You can reach Dave Guilford at



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