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What the FBI wants you to know about vehicle cybersecurity

The FBI released a public service announcement on Thursday warning consumers about the potential for hackers to tap into car computer systems and offered some tips for how to stop them.

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Cars sit in traffic along Florida Avenue in the Shaw neighborhood, in Washington, Wednesday. A public service announcement from the FBI and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns car owners that their vehicles may be vulnerable to hacking attempts on Thursday.

Andrew Harnik/AP

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Concerned about criminals hacking your car? The FBI has a new answer.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a public service announcement on Thursday in association with the Department of Transportation (DoT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) alerting car owners to the updated cybersecurity threats to their vehicles.

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Car hacking first entered the mainstream last year, when vulnerabilities were discovered in Internet-connected vehicles. By giving cars wireless capabilities, manufactures have inadvertently introduced flaws that can make them vulnerable to hackers.

Cars already have features that are controlled by small computers, like the steering, brakes, and airbags. What’s of concern is that those features don’t require authentication to be manipulated, making them an easy target for hackers. Even worse, each feature is connected to all the others, meaning that once a hacker has gained access to, say, your steering wheel, they can easily worm their way into exploiting other computer-controlled systems in your car.

Some car manufacturers are already working on addressing the issue. Ford and Toyota have both built stronger firewalls for their vehicles, and Tesla encourages hackers to share their findings with the company through a “responsible disclosure” policy.

“While the identified vulnerabilities have been addressed, it is important that consumers and manufacturers are aware of the possible threats and how an attacker may seek to remotely exploit vulnerabilities in the future,” the FBI said in Thursday’s PSA. The NHTSA is also working on a number of initiatives related to vehicle cybersecurity.

In order to minimize the risk of a cybersecurity attack on their vehicles, the FBI cautions consumers to remain alert and practice good safety habits. These include regularly updating vehicle software and avoiding making modifications that could influence vehicle software performance. If a consumer suspects that they have been a target of vehicle hacking, the FBI recommends contacting the dealer, the NHTSA, and the local FBI office.