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Why hack your bank account when we can hack your car?

Computers are complex machines. Very complex machines. While they certainly don’t have as many moving parts as your average car, they do possess something that your car doesn’t, millions of lines of hack-able, easily accessible code.

What is code? Code is a term used to describe the commands the computer uses to function. For example, some lines of code may tell the gas tank to draw more or less fuel depending on feedback from the gas pedal and braking systems. Computer programs are made from numerous lines of code. For perspective, the Apollo 11 shuttle computer systems (which put men on the moon) had roughly 150,000 lines of code. Nearly fifty years later, modern vehicles may have over 100 million lines of code. Does more code mean more chances for things to go wrong and more possible weaknesses to exploit?

You wouldn’t download a car

Someone hacking in to your bank account means they may have access to your funds and transactions. What does hacking in to your car mean? Computer engineers have already shown that by getting access to a cars computer systems, they were able to control nearly every part of the vehicles operation. From locks and windows, to brakes, steering, and acceleration, controlling the computer systems gives you control of the vehicle. Imagine driving down the highway and suddenly not just losing control, but having control surrendered to someone else entirely.

At first this may seem like a bit of fear mongering. In the past, it was necessary to have a laptop or something similar plugged in to a vehicle in order to get in to the onboard computer systems. For 2015 Chevrolet offers 4G LTE connections in nearly their entire lineup. This type of connection turns your vehicle into a powerful Wi-fi hotspot on wheels. Like your cell phone, this type of connection also potentially opens up your vehicles computer systems to anyone that could connect to it. In order to meet the growing demand to always be connected, more and more companies are beginning to roll out Wi-Fi hotspot options. Chrysler will be offering uConnect in its vehicles, and Ford will be upgrading its existing SYNC systems. Nokia has also announced partnership with several import brands, such as Toyota, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Honda. By 2017 the number of Wi-Fi enabled cars is expected to rise from 174,000 vehicles to 7.2 million. With the future of cars banking heavy on computers, how will our vehicles remain safe?

Staying connected is a good thing

By now you’re thinking a horse and buggy is your safest bet. With tons of information being hacked and stolen every day, throwing a 4000 pound metal bullet into the equation seems ludicrous. Computers have evolved into cars for a reason however. With these systems in place vehicles are able to offer unparalleled fuel economy, with real-time feedback to the driver. Gauges in vehicles are becoming customizable, with options to display navigation and route options right beside your speed/tachometers.

Most vehicles are also opting for voice-activated systems, meaning fewer driver distractions from cell phones and mobile devices. These systems also make way for advanced users, such as alerting drivers to traffic delays or road conditions. Car to car connections will also be possible, alerting you of a fast approaching tailgater or of a vehicle coming to a sudden stop in front of you. Computer systems in vehicles also make way for self-driving vehicles, options currently being explored by major auto manufacturers (to the delight or dismay of drivers). Self driving options have proven time and again to be safer, maintaining a perfect amount of focus and calculation that a human simply cannot match. If your hands are in the air crying foul over such a statement, BMW has already completed a near perfect lap of the Nürburgring using a driverless 5 series.

Enter the matrix

No one wants their computer systems hacked into, and companies take huge precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen. Ford’s SYNC systems are designed by Microsoft, already the global leader in computer software. Other companies are designing their systems with numerous firewalls and industry standard WPA2 Wi-Fi security. Companies have also taken to hiring hackers that find weaknesses, employing them to constantly be in search of new issues. Toyota has announced plans to take part in several global hacking conferences in hopes to better understand what issues they face. Companies like Tesla, the new leader in electric vehicle technology reward any hackers with a chance to get exclusive tours of their facility.

Cars of the future will benefit in numerous ways from having state of the art computer systems integrated into their workings. From safety to performance, most aspects of vehicle operations can be improved with a bit of computer power under the hood.

Gentlemen, boot up your engines!

It is more likely that danger will occur in a vehicle due to driver error, rather than an issue with the vehicles computer systems. As it stands, driver error accounts for roughly 90% of all road accidents. With more advanced computer systems, the potential for driver error can be reduced, and overall the roads can be safer than ever.

Are computers in cars feasible or flawed?

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