After years of minimizing the threat from intruders to expanding computer systems that are now part of every car and truck, carmakers are taking the dangers more and more seriously.
General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra described the threat as very serious and in need of immediate attention during a conference in July and other companies, such as Mercedes-Benz, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Honda agreed they need to address the issue.
Now Volkswagen AG has announced that it plans to form a partnership with an Israeli security firm that will be targeted against cyber intruders. The new joint venture will be Cymotive Technologies, VW said.
Volkswagen did not say how much it plans to in invest in the new firm.
But the security of cars with internet-connections and self-driving vehicles could become potential targets for hackers, who already have begun to play havoc with e-commerce in which cyber blackmail has become a serious issue, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice.
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Last month, researchers presented a paper at a security conference in Austin, Texas, that said older cars from Volkswagen already vulnerable to attacks by hackers. VWs with keyless entry can be hacked.
The researchers found, according to the paper, that by reverse-engineering the car’s software and then eavesdropping on signals sent from a car owner’s key fob to the vehicle, they could unlock the doors.
Volkswagen would need to roll out a costly firmware update to fix the problem, the researchers added. At the time, Volkswagen simply said it was continually improving its cars security.
Other security experts have been warning that newer cars, with network connectivity, also contain security holes. Last year, two researchers hacked into a 2015 Jeep Cherokee and kill the engine or cut the brakes.
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Fiat Chrysler later issued a safety recall and sent out USB drives with a software fix to protect the electronic control module or ECU in the vehicles.
VWs built since 1995 use one of a handful of electronic “master keys” to remotely open and lock the doors, and those keys can be extracted by reverse engineering the firmware, the researchers wrote in an academic paper.
That alone isn’t enough to break into a car — the master key has to be combined with a unique code generated by each remote key device. But the researchers also devised a way solve that problem.
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FCA has also announced that it is offering rewards to hackers who can breach its defensive systems. Other carmakers also have taken to inviting hackers to attack their systems as car makers step efforts to protect vehicles from cyber attacks.