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Researchers Demonstrate That Products With Embedded Computers Can Be Hacked And Need Stronger Protections

With the digital revolution, computers are now a part of many products and items. Some of these things you are aware of. Others, you might not be aware of:

  • In June, a group of researchers, including students at the University of Texas at Austin, created fake GPS signals to steer an $80 million yacht off course. During this experiment, the yacht was sailing in international waters off the coast of Italy.
  • Funded by DARPA, engineers penetrated the systems in a Ford Excape to disable the car's brakes, engage the brakes at high speed, spoofed the GPS, disabled the power steering, and other nasty hacks. This was not adriverless car, but a standard-issue car built by Ford Motor Company.
  • Other hackers found vulnerabilities in digital television sets, which allowed hackers to remotely take over the camera in the devices

All of this hacking was done to highlight the vulnerabilities, and to encourage manufacturers to build better data security into their products. Forbes magazine reported:

"Practically every American carmaker now offers a cellular service or Wi-Fi network like General Motors’ OnStar, Toyota’s Safety Connect and Ford’s SYNC. Mobile-industry trade group the GSMA estimates revenue from wireless devices in cars at $2.5 billion today and projects that number will grow tenfold by 2025. Without better security it’s all potentially vulnerable, and automakers are remaining mum or downplaying the issue."

So, just like spammers current "spook" or create fake e-mail addresses, criminals and identity thieves can create fake GPS signals to fool any GPS-enabled mobile device. If engineers and researchers can do these nasty hacks, so too can real criminals and identity thieves.

When these types of hacks happen, there is no alarm or signal that the device is being or has been hacked.

The bottom line: a computer is a computer, regardless of the device or product that contains one. And, that computer (or WiFi server) can be hacked by criminals just like your laptop, desktop, tablet, and smart phone can be hacked. A wise consumer will:

  1. Understand before purchase the data security built into a manufacturer's product
  2. Read before a purchase the privacy policy that is included with the product
  3. After purchase, install and maintain any anti-virus software to protect the product


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R Michelle Green

so how do you protect a car's computer?


Good question. Excellent topic for a future blog post, too. I am confident that the current anti-virus software developers will work with auto manufacturers -- just as they work with traditional desktop/laptop/mobile computer manufacturers and users. Why? There is much money to be made.

The point of my blog post is that developments and innovation are happening so quickly, that consumers need to understand the risks until protection methods are put into place.

McAfee recognizes the problem (and the market opportunity):

Hit the brakes! How Secure is Your Car’s Computer?

This Car And Driver article lists some of the projects underway to secure computers in cars:



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