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Hackers reveal that computerized cars are still vulnerable

It sounds like something out of a spy movie: someone is driving down the street when, without warning, computer hackers take control of his or her vehicle. The hackers force the car to crash, injuring everyone inside. Frighteningly enough, hackers have proven that this scenario could potentially happen in real life.

Modern automobiles rely heavily on computers and Internet connections for many of their features. The average vehicle fresh off the assembly line contains 40 to 50 computers on-board that run 20 million lines of software code -- more than a Boeing 787, according to the Associated Press.

Due to wireless Internet technology, these vehicles are theoretically as vulnerable to hacks as your computer. A pair of “white hat” hackers proved that in 2010. A white hat hacker is a person who uses his or her skills to alert companies to vulnerabilities that might be exposed by less ethical hackers.

The white hat hackers were university students who took control of a General Motors vehicle through its cellular and Bluetooth connections. In reaction, the auto industry added fixes, such as isolating critical functions from entertainment and driver information systems.

From there, the industry continued to computerize their vehicles. Some models now provide Internet access. And new white hat hack shows that it is still possible to gain remote control of a vehicle -- and from further away than previously known.

Recently, a new pair of hackers revealed they were able to take control of a Jeep through a radio chip. It took them about a year to gain full control, and the hackers were highly skilled, according to one of the people behind the 2010 hack. Still, this incident raises troubling questions about the safety of new vehicles on the roads.

Source: The Associated Press, “Automakers trying to prevent hackers from commandeering cars,” Tom Krisher, Aug. 5, 2015

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