The BBC reports that a team of researchers from several different universities have compromised the “Electronic Control Units” that control almost every system in modern automobiles. The ECUs are scattered thoughout the vehicles’ system and controlled by the central CPU. From the story at the link:
In one attack, the team transformed the instrument panel into a clock that counted down to zero from 60 seconds. In the final seconds the horn honks and as zero is reached the car engine shuts off and the doors are locked.
Thought the tone of the story is somewhat breathless by BBC standards, a close reading shows that we probably don’t have to panic about a surprise stealth attack while exiting the freeway. Direct physical access to the vehicle’s dataport is required.
If you’re driving down the street with a bad guy in the footwell of the passenger compartment of your car jacking a laptop into your car’s dataport, you’ve already got security problems even before he fires up the box.
Nevertheless, it would probably be a good idea not to leave your car unlocked at a BlackHat conference. And we’ll probably see this in a plot in an NCIS or Law and Order: Something or Other episode soon.