University researchers have taken a close look at the computer systems used to run today’s cars and discovered new ways to hack into them, sometimes with frightening results. The security researchers said that by connecting to a standard diagnostic computer port included in late-model cars, they were able to do some nasty things, such as turning off the brakes, changing the speedometer reading, blasting hot air or music on the radio, and locking passengers in the car. In a late 2009 demonstration at a decommissioned airfield in Blaine, Washington, they hacked into a test car’s electronic braking system and prevented a test driver from braking a moving car — no matter how hard he pressed on the brakes. In other tests, they were able to kill the engine, falsify the speedometer reading, and automatically lock the car’s brakes unevenly, a maneuver that could destabilize the car traveling at high speeds. They ran their test by plugging a laptop into the car’s diagnostic system and then controlling the car’s computer wirelessly, from a laptop in a vehicle riding next to the car.

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