According to Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, vehicles such as Toyota Prius are susceptible to hacking attacks

Device protects vehicles from hackers

Cyber security researchers have developed a prototype device to prevent hackers from launching attacks on travelling cars.

The two researchers, Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller, have developed the ‘intrusion prevention device’ to address a security gap they identified and unveiled one year ago at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas.

Their work showed how hackers can remotely access systems of Toyota Prius and Ford Escape cars and tamper with the vehicles’ brakes.

Valasek told Reuters on Tuesday that he and Miller will show off a prototype vehicle "intrusion prevention device" at next month's Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas.

Using electronics parts worth about $150, the researchers have built a device and wrote complex algorithms allowing the device to listen to traffic in a car's network to understand how things are supposed to work. When an attack occurs, the device identifies traffic anomalies and blocks rogue activity, Valasek said.

The computer experts said they had decided to pursue the project because they wanted to help automakers identify ways to defend against security vulnerabilities in their products.

"I really don't care if you hack my browser and steal my credit card," Valasek said. "But crashing a car is life or death. It is dramatic. We wanted to be part of the solution."

Although no accidents involving hacking vehicle control systems have been reported so far, some experts believe that one day hackers may attempt to replicate the work demonstrated by the two researchers.

"Cyber security is a global concern and it is a growing threat for all industries, including the automotive," said Jack Pokrzywa, manager of global ground vehicle standards with SAE International, a group that represents industry engineers.

Pokrzywa declined to comment on the specifics of the new technology from Valasek and Miller, though he said "Any viable solution reducing cyber threats is a step in the right direction."

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