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Digital Evidence Forensics Expert:
You Secured Your Computer and Your Phone, What About Your Car?

Electronic Evidence / Electronic Forensics Articles

We have regaled you with stories about how to keep your personal data on your phone and computer safe, this week we are focusing on cars. With new cars having extra features such as assisted parking and crash avoidance, they require more computers to control them. It is estimated that the average new car can have upwards of 50 microprocessors (computer brains) in it, that control everything from how much you brake to your air conditioning. There are sensors galore that monitor tire pressure, road conditions, engine efficiency, and much more. All are controlled by the Engine Control Unit (ECU) and other on-board computers which takes all of this data and processes it at lightning fast speeds to keep your car running smoothly.

Most of us have seen positive effects of this new technology. Ford, based in Dearborn Michigan, released its Remote Access App, which allowed certain Ford owners to use their smartphone to lock and unlock their car, remote start and stop the engine, all with an app and nominal yearly fee. However, in July of this year, an editor with Forbes met with two very competent hackers and demonstrated what some attacks might look like. They changed the fuel gauge to read full, when it was less than ¼ full. The speed was altered to read 199 miles per hour, when the car was going less than 10 mph. They disabled the brakes, the steering, even tripped the crash sensors that caused some interesting driving ( the full video of which can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqe6S6m73Zw ).

But don’t freak out just yet and buy an old 80’s clunker, these attacks are a few years away from being a reality. For their purposes, they essentially had to disassemble the cars and hook them up to special equipment to make all of this work. As time passes, this will be unnecessary, as cars will be more connected to the internet much like your smartphone, giving hackers a whole new area of expertise. Car manufacturers are aware of this, and are all promising to design the safest system possible, but we will have to wait and see what new issues this raises for owners and the security community.


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