A team of top hackers working for Intel Corp.'s security division toil away in a West Coast garage searching for electronic bugs that could make automobiles vulnerable to lethal computer viruses, Reuters reported.
Intel's McAfee unit, which is best known for software that fights PC viruses, is one of a handful of firms that are looking to protect the dozens of tiny computers and electronic communications systems that are built into every modern car.
Security experts say that automakers have so far failed to adequately protect these systems, leaving them vulnerable to hacks by attackers looking to steal cars, eavesdrop on conversations or even harm passengers by causing vehicles to crash.
"You can definitely kill people," said John Bumgarner, chief technology officer of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit organization that helps companies analyze the potential for targeted computer attacks on their networks and products.
To date there have been no reports of violent attacks on automobiles using a computer virus, according to SAE International, an association of more than 128,000 technical professionals working in the aerospace and auto industries.
Yet, Ford Motor Co. spokesman Alan Hall said his company had tasked its security engineers with making its Sync in-vehicle communications and entertainment system as resistant as possible to attack.
"Ford is taking the threat very seriously and investing in security solutions that are built into the product from the outset," he said.
A group of U.S. computer scientists shook the industry in 2010 with a landmark study that showed viruses could damage cars when they were moving at high speeds.