Picture yourself driving at a breakneck speed ala James bond and losing control of the brakes just when you’re about to close in on a train stop. To top it all off, the train is just a few seconds away from crushing your vehicle to pieces. By now, everything should be going in slow motion and your jaw would have tightened in concentration. Hit the pause button there to stop speculating. That could only happen in the movies right? If you think car hacks only happen in movies then you might be in for a surprise.

A report from The New York Times suggests that such a thrilling—and scary—scene might become a reality after all. Two collaborating teams of researchers from the University of California San Diego and University of Washington presented a report in the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy yesterday, May 19th, regarding the risks present in automotive embedded systems. The IEEE Symposium is one of the leading venues for putting forward recent developments in computer security and electronic privacy. The IEEE Symposium also brings together researchers and professionals from these areas of expertise.

According to The New York Times, the study-Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile- proved that researchers can remotely control “ a wide range of automotive functions and completely ignore driver input — including disabling the brakes, selectively braking individual wheels on demand, stopping the engine, and so on”. With computers integrated into car systems today, a whole new world has opened up for hackers to exploit. These vulnerabilities are much akin to the present risks that our computers face. However, the car industry has had limited studies performed on these threats; or rather ignored to enlighten the public with this fact.

The study aims to present the larger picture involved in utilizing a computer network in a car. The researchers were quick to point that their study was about network security in automobiles and not about the risks of having a computerized system in cars.

The researchers proved that they were able to manipulate cars through a wireless network. They confirmed that they were able to do this and much more including erasing all data of unauthorized invasion after that. They compared the seriousness of this security flaw to problems that we had in the past with our computers when we started connecting to networks. Back then, it was generally ignored and considered a folly. Only after the far-reaching effects of security breaches on a network were felt was this problem addressed.

To date, most average PC users have only encountered the tip of an iceberg when it comes to facing network security issues. A large number of people remain in blissful ignorance of the dangers they could come across by connecting their PCs to a network. The threats remain virtual and do not directly put lives in danger. With cars however, simply losing control over the brakes or just the ventilation system seems frightening and too close for comfort.