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Wednesday, 17 September 2014 16:23

Car hacking the torque of the town Featured

Queensland University of Technology's Professor Andry Rakotonirainy Queensland University of Technology's Professor Andry Rakotonirainy

Cars have "virtually non-existent" levels of security and are at extreme levels of risk of being hacked, according to a Queensland professor.

Coat hangers and shims are the burglary tools of the past, with today's cars now susceptible to unprecedented online security risks according to researchers.

Queensland University of Technology's Professor Andry Rakotonirainy, who heads the university's Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Queensland (CARRS), has researched the security systems of existing fleet, future autonomous and connected cars and found there was little protection against hacking.

"The security protection on cars is virtually non-existent, it is at a level of protection that a desktop computer system had in the 1980s, the basic security requirements such as authentication, confidentiality and integrity are not strong," he said.

"What this means is that as vehicles become more and more connected and autonomous, with the ability to communicate to other vehicles and infrastructure through wireless networks, the threat of cyber attack increases putting people's safety and security at risk."

Professor Rakotonirainy said while most vehicles built within the last decade had features allowing them to connect to the internet and communicate with devices within the vehicle, the development of intelligent transport systems meant future cars would be connected to wireless networks as standard and would offer a higher level of automation.

He said all new cars were equipped with technology, called CAN-BUS, located under the steering wheel and described as a point that provides access to the "brain of a car", allowing anyone to check the health of a vehicle and to control it.

"This CAN-BUS allows all microcontrollers within a car to communicate to each other and is accessible via a mere plug," he said.

"It can be used to control almost everything such as the airbags, brakes, cruise control and power steering systems. CAN-BUS can be accessed locally or remotely with simple devices.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg as future cars will feature a tremendous mix of wireless networks and offer numerous opportunities to improve safety, entertainment and comfort.

"For example, cars will be wirelessly connected to other cars. If a vehicle stops ahead, a warning can be issued to drivers behind to slow down, or vehicles can automatically take control and slowdown without the driver's intervention.

"It will also be possible for vehicles to connect with infrastructure. For example, if a light turned red, but an approaching vehicle failed to slow, perhaps because the driver was distracted, a warning could be issued or action taken to automatically control the vehicle."

Professor Rakotonirainy said while these features had the potential to improve road safety, if hacked people's lives could be put at risk.

"If someone hacks into a vehicle's electronics via a wireless network and exploits the current security loophole, they can track or take control of it," he said.

"We need to be analysing the types of risk that that these intelligent vehicles are facing and work to provide a secure, reliable and trusted protection system.

"A vehicle's communication security over wireless networks cannot be an afterthought and needs to be comprehensively considered at the early stages of design and deployment of these high-tech systems from the hardware, software, user and policy point of view."

RACQ spokesman Russell Manning told the ABC however that while the combination of high-tech cars and poor security could make it easier to steal them, at this point Australians have little to worry about.

"Given that a lot of cars now have a self-parking system, the computer could override the steering and make it turn in a way you didn't want it to turn and that sort of thing," he said.

"At this point the cars we have here in Australia are not very susceptible to this sort of thing."

In related news Apple's CarPlay, described as the "best iPhone experience on four wheels", is facing heavy delays.

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