Engineers at Cambridge university have shown that modern computers in cars are vulnerable to being hacked.
"The computers in cars control ever more of the car's functions these days," said Professor Lee Gate, who led the team that attempted to hack vehicles. "From stopping, starting, engine management and even parking, the computer is largely in control these days. We discovered that with a Bluetooth smart phone we were able to gain access to the computer system in the car and control various functions remotely."
Worse, Gate found that the computers all ran on Linux, a common operating system.
"This has made them vulnerable to viruses," Gate admitted. "The more we dug, the worse the news got, with many cars connecting to the Internet to download real-time traffic information, and latest software updates. This means that one car can infect another vulnerable car, creating a massive potential problem."
The car industry has responded rapidly to Gate's discovery.
Sue Geot is a consultant to the automotive industry, and she has already made some recommendations.
"I have specified car based fire walls," she said. "These can stop many intruders from getting at the computer inside the vehicle in the first place. Additionally, I have also suggested several virus scanners that could be incorporated into the computer systems."
What Car Editor, Ian Niss, is dubious about the potential vulnerability, problems and indeed the solution.
"If you ask me," Niss said, "which you have, I would say that this problem has been blown out of all proportion. There is little commercial gain from making somebody park suddenly, or having their windscreen demist at seventy miles an hour. The software for controlling breaking and other sensitive components is not over-writable. I doubt virus writers could be bothered."
Niss foresees problems should virus scanners be installed in the computer.
"If they're anything like the one on my computer," Niss said, "then I can see it taking an extra ten minutes to start your car in the morning. It'll probably take longer to switch off too. And what happens if you're on the motorway and the virus scanner switches on? It'll probably slow the whole car down to fifteen miles an hour until it's finished. Worse, it'll probably decided that your front passenger side tyre is malware and uninstall it while your driving over a bridge. It'll all end in tears."