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Lexus remotely updates software, crashes navigation: Is a cyberattack to blame?

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Gene J. Puskar/AP/File

(Read caption) This is the Lexus logo on display at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show in Pittsburgh.

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For today's car-owners, over-the-air updates are a great thing--except when they aren't. Some Lexus owners have learned that the hard way, thanks to a software update that's been crashing vehicles' navigation systems.

Reports about the problem vary, but several owners complain that it's bricked the nav service in their cars. The system on Lexus RX 350 vehicles appears to start up, then switches to a purple screen before rebooting. Other reports say that vehicles' radios have been affected. 

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Lexus' parent company, Toyota, is still trying to get to the root of the problem. It could be due to an issue with the code--perhaps the navigation system's internal software, or perhaps a few lines of code that conflict with another device.

More alarming is the possibility that Lexus has been the target of a cyberattack. One Toyota spokesperson, Cindy Knight, told Bloomberg that satellite communications to Lexus vehicles' navigation systems "had been disrupted". Knight didn't go into detail about the incident, but we'd expect more information about any potential breach over the next few days. Even if the problem weren't caused by hackers, we assume that Lexus will soon harden its communications system.

Also uncertain is the fix for these vehicles. It's possible that Lexus may be able to issue another over-the-air update to make things right. However, if a cyberattack is to blame--or even potentially to blame--it may be safer for owners to take their vehicles to Lexus dealers for repairs. 

At the moment, the only thing that's fairly clear is that Lexus' problem isn't limited to a particular geographic area. The automaker has received comments and complaints from owners in California, the Midwest, and the South.

For more on this story, visit our colleagues at Motor Authority.