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The car safety debate is not complete unless we also address cyber attacks. The threat may expose newer vehicles to incidents that could originate from attacks perpetrated by hackers.

According to Consumer Reports, a consumer product watchdog, the real risk could be much greater than we now believe it to be. To address the potential threat, consumer safety advocates have been investigating the possible scenarios involving cyber threats to evaluate just how dangerous the risk is. According to advocates, the threat is scary enough to prompt all carmakers to do all in their power to address the vulnerabilities.

One of the possible scenarios include risks associated with the vehicle’s central computers. Since most newer vehicles have a full computer system doing many of the essential tasks needed to ensure the car is running smoothly, hackers could get into the vehicle’s computer system and cause the car to accelerate. As the driver watches in horror, the steering wheel moves and the car swerves. To prevent this type of scenario, car makers and federal agents have taken the threat seriously enough to begin investigating ways to prevent it.

According to the Global Automakers coalition, cyber experts have already voiced concerns about the vulnerability of modern cars. They have also claimed that preventing the incidents is nearly impossible in this stage. Since newer cars are highly computerized, it’s hard for safety experts to find ways to seal the systems from potential attacks. The way to go about the threat is to develop car computers that are protected from potential risks from the start.

Some of the features that use vulnerable technologies include self-parking features, automatic cruise control, and steer-by-wire capabilities. The very existence of these technologies makes it easy for hackers to take control remotely.

But as regulators become increasingly concerned, software engineers at the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration work to stay one step ahead of anyone attempting to hack one vehicle or a group of vehicles.

Engineers have been spending days hacking into vehicles to test the car computers and identify just what exactly their vulnerabilities are. These tests help engineers to develop solutions that could keep vehicles from being attacked.

Consumer Reports representatives visited with the team of engineers working with the NHTSA in order to learn more about the risks and how they intend to avoid them. In their test lab, engineers hacked into vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and the Ford Fusion. During their experiments, they found they were able to manipulate the vehicles’ lights, windows, fans, door locks, horns, seat-belt tension systems, brakes, steering, instrument panels, and even the engines. The scariest thing about it all is that all of these were possible as the vehicle is traveling.

What these tests show is that hackers with incredible knowledge are able to get into the vehicle’s computer system very easily, putting the lives of drivers and their passengers in serious danger.

The NHTSA and the consortium of automakers want to develop solutions and technologies that would be protected from the cyber threat that is now more real than ever.

If you would like to know more about what the NHTSA is doing to keep your car safe from cyber threats, watch the video below.

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