Hackers find their way into cars on-board computer systems

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It could be called a new type of car-jacking.  It's car-hacking and it involves the computing power under the hood of your car.

With the complexity of the computer systems and logic in your automobile comes a potential for hacking.

Could someone take control of your car to steal it, cause the driver harm, convince the driver to pull over for "urgent maintenance" or ruin the car?  According to some experts, the answer is yes.

It is a potential danger but the good news is cars are still relatively safe from criminal hackers.  However, the flaws found during recent tests are something that should be addressed.

For starters, WBTV Cyber Expert Theresa Payton says the recent hacks identified require the criminal to physically connect into the computer systems under your car's hood,  or hack into networks such as General Motors' OnStar, or have very close access to your car to carry out any evil deeds.

A team of scientists at the University of Washington and University of San Diego was assembled to see what they could hack.  The research team wrote their hacking code, affectionately called "CarShark", and accomplished these tasks:

-turned off brakes in a MOVING car

-changed the reading on the speedometer

-blasted the radio volume

-turned the heat up high

-locked passengers inside the car

In another study, scientists from Rutgers University and University of South Carolina, were able to hack into a car's computer system, take over the wireless tire pressure system, and sent false low-air pressure warnings to the car.  They did have to travel closely to the target car to intercept the signal and send the false messages.

There are several research reports if you would like to read more information on this potential threat:

Blog Post by Bruce Schneier, "Hacking Cars Through Wireless Tire-Pressure Sensors",  August 17, 2010.

Christian Science Monitor Article, "Scientists hack into cars' computers -- control brakes, engine", Mark Clayton, August 13, 2010.

PCWorld Article, "Car Hackers Can Kill Brakes, Engine, and More", Robert McMillan, IDG News, May 13, 2010.

POPSCI Article, "Proof of Concept CarShark Software Hacks Car Computers, Shutting Down Brakes, Engines, and More", Rebecca Boyle, May 14, 2010.