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Cybersecurity a significant concern as cars become more automated

The auto industry is downplaying the immediate risk of car-hacking after a report about a cyber-intruder’s use of GPS trackers that allowed him to monitor the location of thousands of vehicles in commercial fleets and even turn off their engines.

Hacking is not like you see it on TV,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Makers. But she said automakers take the threat seriously and are focusing more on shielding vehicles’ computer systems from possible intruders.

“Vehicles are highly complex with multiple layers of security, and remote access is exceedingly difficult by design,” Bergquist said in an email. “New cars being launched now have an exponential increase in cybersecurity. Automakers are collaborating in all areas possible, including hardware, software and knowledge sharing with suppliers, government and the research community.”

Automakers say their engineers have made IT security a priority. Computer-based systems that control the vehicle or contribute to its safe operation are walled off from communications and navigations systems. The industry also says it uses simulated attacks to test the safety. In 2015, Fiat Chrysler voluntarily recalled 1.4 million vehicles after security researchers, using pathways in onboard entertainment systems, discovered a way to disable a Jeep Cherokee’s brakes and steering while the car was on the highway.

The industry in 2015 also set up the Information Sharing and Analysis Center with 49 automakers and suppliers to develop guidelines on cybersecurity.

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