UVA and Virginia State Police Partner to Address Car Hacking

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Researchers at the University of Virginia say they've developed a way to detect if your car's electronic system is being hacked.

Information engineering researchers at UVA say computer hacking is no longer confined to your desktop or smart phones. Automobiles with advanced electronic systems are now at a much higher risk to be taken out of a driver's control.

These days almost all newer model cars or SUVs have some sort of electronic computer system that controls brakes, accelerators, wind shield wipers and even parallel parking. Each of those things can be accessed by a hacker.

Researchers say new cars controlled by computers with connectivity can be attacked by something as simple as a key fob. If things like automatic brakes or cruise control functions are disabled and controlled by an outside third-party, drivers are helpless.

"Until you think about it, you don't think about it. Like what if it's raining and the windshield wipers don't work? What if it's night and your lights won't go on? What if it's day and your siren is on all the time? These are things that are all computer controlled," said Barry Horowitz, professor and chair of UVA's Department of Systems and Information Engineering.

They say emergency personnel could be most at risk to these kinds of cyber attacks. "If you think about what organization would be prone to attacks, one could argue the police would be an obvious possibility. So they have to worry about their own cars but use it as a way of projecting what could be done,” said Horowitz.

The university is partnering with Virginia State Police to test researchers' detection software inside patrol cars. There have not been any reported cases of government or private cars being hacked in the United States, but police are aware of the possibility. The software, named Mission Secure, gives them an advantage over cyber criminals.

UVA professors in this field say the measurements they'll get from intentionally hacking these police cruisers will allow them to understand what they could be up against if car hacking begins to become a major problem.

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