Drivers can converse with each other via Bluetooth phone connections, ask their GPS and Satellite navigation systems for directions and dial up satellite radio. The same cars use electronic components to control and work with the gas pedal to accelerate and control stability.
What increasingly worries scientists is that entertainment computers could be manipulated to tell the safety computers what to do.
“There clearly is a vulnerability,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, based in Arlington, Va. “All these electronics we’re bringing into cars seem to exacerbate that.”
A National Academy of Sciences panel, including Lund, elevated the concerns in a report Jan. 18 reviewing U.S. regulators’ work in finding the cause of unintended acceleration in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles.
While safety and entertainment systems are intended to be separate, “it is not evident that this separation has been adequately designed for cybersecurity concerns,” the academy wrote. It agreed with U.S. regulators who said they found no evidence the Toyota incidents were caused by faulty electronics.
Automotive engineers at a conference in Washington last week said they aren’t immediately concerned that a hacker will take over a car and drive it off a bridge. Instead, they said, they want to help automakers spot vulnerabilities while they’re hypothetical and ease fears of consumers who are already familiar with cyberattacks in other areas.