Yes, Hackers Can Seize Control of Your Car

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The Battlestar Galactica had no networked computers for the simple reason that they might allow the Cylons to take control of the ship. You might want to think about that next time you pop in a burned CD into your car’s stereo system.

Computer security researchers at UC San Diego and the University of Washington have successfully taken control of a car’s computer system by adding extra code to a digital music file that when played changes the car’s firmware, thus allowing access to the onboard computer. Such access could potentially allow a hacker to unlock the doors and activate the engine.

Other methods of remotely taking control of a car described in the researchers’ paper include Bluetooth and attached cell phones. The music file attack is especially interesting because an “infected” file could be spread on file-sharing networks.

While this sounds scary, it’s comforting to know that the researchers say they wrote the paper to highlight the challenges of remotely hacking a car’s computer system.

“This report explores how hard it is to compromise a car’s computers without having any direct physical access to the car,” lead researcher Stefan Savage told The New York Times.

And although cars may be increasingly susceptible to hacks as they become more wired, we shouldn’t forget that their greatest vulnerability is still a thief with a wire hanger or lock-pick set.

Jerry Brito is a contributor to TIME. Find him on Twitter at @jerrybrito. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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