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Hackers Expose Potentially Dangerous Security Flaws In Automobile Computers

(KPIX 5) - The threat from hackers has usually meant safeguarding your computer, laptop or smartphone; but the new target of hackers may be your automobile, security experts warn.

As computers are increasingly used to control the various systems within a vehicle, hackers have shown they can easily disrupt a car's essential functions.

"It's quite terrifying when you don't have brakes, right?" asked Chris Valasek, who hacks into computer systems of cars and trucks for a living.

This past summer, Valasek and his partner released details of their car hacking research in Las Vegas at DefCon, one of the longest running and largest hacker conventions in the world.

Their findings have been posted and re-posted across the internet.

KPIX-5 first warned of the possibility of car hacking nearly two years ago when McAfee security expert Brian Contos told us, "I would say that you are actually driving your smart phone down the road."

Technology analysts point out that some cars have more than 30 small computers built into them to monitor the various operating and comfort systems drivers have gotten accustomed to.

Valasek was able to use a laptop computer to hack in.

"We were able to take control of the brakes, the steering wheel, the seatbelts," said Valasek. "The most annoying one was the horn. But we could engage the brakes and, regardless of what you did, you couldn't move the car."

Could that kind of control be exercised on a large scale?

"The nightmare scenario, while it hasn't been tested or proven yet, would be to consider 100 cars on the Golden Gate Bridge. Half of them their brakes hit and half of them accelerate at the same time," said Contos.

Researchers at University of Washington, U.C. San Diego and Rutgers University are also investigating car hacking. They included the tire sensors, which transmit wirelessly to the vehicle, in their research. Researchers used common lab equipment to capture the signal, rewrite it and send it back to the car and trigger a dashboard warning light indicating the tires are flat when they're not.

Security experts have said someone with criminal intent could use that to get an unsuspecting driver to pull over to the side of the road.

So far, Ford and Chrysler are two automobile companies that have said they are taking steps to increase security features.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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