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Vehicle hacking is new threat

Drivers on the road now face the same risks associated with personal electronic devices and home computers, which may also increase the odds for car accidents. The FBI and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration were compelled to issue a warning on hacking of car electronics earlier this year.

Many new vehicles are equipped with connected technologies known as electronic control units which control functions such as steering, braking, acceleration, lights and windshield wipers. Other functions include keyless entry, ignition control, tire pressure monitoring, diagnostic, navigation and entertainment systems in the vehicle.

However, remote exploits or hacking may endanger drivers and their passengers. Hacking occurs when a person with a computer seeks unauthorized access to vehicle systems to retrieve driver data or manipulate the car's functionality.

Manufacturers try to prevent hacking by limiting interaction between vehicle systems, wireless communications and vehicle ports. However, these new connections provide portals where adversaries may remotely assault vehicle controls and systems.

A hacker may attack vulnerabilities within the car's wireless communications functions such as a cellular phone or tablet connected to the vehicle through a USB, Bluetooth or WI-FI. Hackers may also assault vulnerabilities within a third-party device connected through a diagnostic port.

In a 2015 study, researchers were able to target the active cellular wireless and optionally-user enabled Wi-Fi hotspot communication function from a distance of less than 100 feet. Researchers were able to shut down the engine, disable brakes and effect the steering when the car was travelling from 5 to 10 mph. At any speed, researchers could alter door locks, turn signals, tachometer, radio, HVAC and GPS systems.

Car owners should ensure that their vehicle software is current. Also, caution has to be used when modifications are made to vehicle software or when connecting third-party devices to the car. Owners should also remain cautious on granting access to their car.

Auto accident victims may be entitled to compensation from a hacker, a car owner who recklessly maintains their vehicle's systems or a manufacturer who installs defective equipment. Prompt legal representation may help protect rights in these lawsuits.

Source: FBI, "Motor vehicles increasingly vulnerable to remote exploits," Accessed May 30, 2016

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