Can a Virus Hitch a Ride in Your Car?

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Doctor Q, Mar 14, 2005.

  1. Doctor Q Administrator

    Doctor Q

    Staff Member

    Sep 19, 2002
    Los Angeles
    New York Times story (temporarily viewable with free registration):
    Can a Virus Hitch a Ride in Your Car?

    What if viruses, worms or other forms of malware penetrated the computers that control ever more crucial functions in the car? Could you find yourself at the wheel of two tons of rolling steel that has malevolent code coursing through its electronic veins?

    That frightening prospect has had Internet message boards buzzing this year, amid rumors that a virus had infected Lexus cars and S.U.V.'s. The virus supposedly entered the cars over the Bluetooth wireless link that lets drivers use their cellphones to carry on hands-free conversations through the cars' microphones and speakers.


    The Lexus tale, based on murky reporting and a speculative statement by Kaspersky Labs, a Moscow antivirus company, seems to have been unfounded. "Lexus and its parent companies, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. and Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan, have investigated this rumor," the carmaker said in a statement last month, "and have determined it to be without foundation."

    But the question lingers: Could a car be infected by a virus passed along from, say, your cellphone or hand-held computer? Or worse, by a hacker with a Bluetooth device within range of the car's antennas?​
    Even without Bluetooth, cars are increasingly built with built-in computers, from fuel mixing to braking systems to GPS navigation to OnStar.

    So this particular story was apparently not true, but here's what I wonder: How vulnerable are any of these systems? Is it just a matter of time before one of these rumored "carhackings" turns out to be real?
  2. Applespider macrumors G4


    Jan 20, 2004
    looking through rose-tinted spectacles...
    Last week, the Oystercard that checks people through the Tube system in London went down in rush hour one morning. They had to open the gates of the stations and let everyone through 'free of charge'.

    Last year, a friend's card network went down and they couldn't get any cash out of ATMs or use their debit/credit cards.

    Both of these were inconvenient but manageable. Part of me is slightly nervous about the idea of a computerised home with non-mechanical locks and cars with auto-drive. Let's hope that the people building/implementing these systems take care to build secure systems - and incorporate a few failsafes! ;)
  3. PlaceofDis macrumors Core

    Jan 6, 2004
    the good thing about cars as of right now is that most of the electronics are very very simplified

    i wouldnt say that the on board computer of a car has much of an OS, it basically just funtions and conducts its processes, however, as cars to become increasingly more reliant on computer systems we will see something more of a traditional computer system that might be able to be infected

    however, without outside connections cars and the like should remain reletively safe from viruses. Once the internet becomes incorporated into cars then we will see problems like crazy. So long as the electronics of the cars are only accessible through an additional connection/computer for diagnostics i dont think there will be problems, but once everything we own starts to be 'plugged in' i will start walking everywhere ;)
  4. wdlove macrumors P6


    Oct 20, 2002
    Very interesting. When I saw the title my first thought was a living virus, just happens to be my default thinking. It would seem that the virus would have to get into the car at manufacturing or a car shop. Otherwise the car would never be hooked to an online source. :D
  5. EJBasile macrumors 65816


    Apr 20, 2004
    That would be really bad if viruses came out for cars.

    New cars, are controlled by computers and more expensive cars have the stability, traction, etc features controlled electronicly.

    That would not be good. Thanks NY Times for pointing that out so now more people will think about making them :)
  6. savar macrumors 68000


    Jun 6, 2003
    District of Columbia
    They were probably all running on Windows. This happened to DARPA and DOD a few years ago, swamped by a worm which exploited Windows' bugs. I've also seen Windows crash ATMs, the order kiosks at the sandwich shop, and the schedule programs at the train station. In each case I can tell its windows because a standard windows error box comes up, or else it goes to standard windows blue screen.

    Luckily, a car's "computer" is not a PC, especially not a windows PC. Cars use a number of microcontrollers which have primitive, if any, networking between them. These microcontrollers are often *not* reprogrammable and have only a few hundred/thousand bytes of RAM. They also either don't have an OS or run a very small OS called an RTOS.

    Some day, of course, the car's central computer will be much more powerful and will run some type of consumer-grade OS. At that point in time, lord help us if they pick Windows.
  7. Mechcozmo macrumors 603


    Jul 17, 2004
    Now? No.

    In the future? If Microsoft has anything to say about it.... :rolleyes:
  8. Apple Hobo macrumors 6502a

    Apple Hobo

    Mar 19, 2004
    A series of tubes
    Great. Another useless distraction that we really can't live without.

    Check you e-mail, surf porn, watch TV and jabber on the phone--all at the same time while driving.

    Maybe someday all this heavy reliance on computers will bite us in the ass.

    I can see it now:

    Car salesman: "Buy a new Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury before March 15 and we'll give you a free copy of Norton AutoEdition®!!! Stop in today for sweet deals!"
  9. Doctor Q thread starter Administrator

    Doctor Q

    Staff Member

    Sep 19, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Correct, but any components that communicate with each other wirelessly within the car or with the outside world have to follow some communication protocol, so these communications could in theory be hijacked or spoofed. And any embedded systems that allow firmware updates are potential victims of bad firmware from somebody with access to the underlining code or who reverse engineers it. Could an evil car mechanic sabotage your brakes with firmware? Only in theory, I hope.

    After I read this story, I asked a friend who runs an auto repair shop for his opinion. He hadn't heard about the car virus issue at all, but he did start telling me how he no longer uses e-mail because of all the spam. When he told me that Windows viruses are his biggest concern, I told him that many people switch to Macintoshes for exactly that reason. His eyebrows went up. So I didn't learn anything more about car-based computers, but maybe I planted the Switcher Virus in his personal CPU (brain). :)

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