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Car virus myth debunked

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Rumours that the Bluetooth systems of cars are at risk from infection from mobile phone viruses have been debunked.

Anti-virus firm F-Secure tested a Toyota Prius and failed, despite exhaustive attempts, to infect the car's systems with variants of the infamous Cabir worm, the most wide-spreading piece of mobile code malware to date.

F-Secure's experiment confirms Toyota's rebuttal of rumours that on-board computers of its Lexus cars were susceptible to infection by viruses that spread using Bluetooth, such as Cabir.

Toyota said its Lexus (and Prius) cars do not use Symbian OS, and therefore can't be infected by Cabir. F-Secure's tests confirmed this. They also showed that on-board systems ignored the Bluetooth traffic generated by an infected mobile phone. Even attempts to transfer Cabir-infected SIS files to the car manually using a special file transfer program failed.

An F-Secure researcher also tried other Bluetooth attacks against the car on got the shock of his life when car systems locked up displaying the following error message: "The transmission lock mechanism is abnormal. Park your car on a flat surface, and fully apply the hand brake". Blimey.

Restarting the car cleared the problem but the same test repeatedly crashed car computer systems. The behaviour raised serious concerns. But after double checking systems F-Secure realised low-battery voltage - rather than Bluetooth attacks - were responsible for the car's systems going haywire.

"After fixing the battery problem, we continued tests and Toyota Prius performed admirably. We managed to find one minor issue with the system (a corrupted phone name would freeze the on-board display), but otherwise the Prius Bluetooth system was far more stable than our test phones and PCs. We had to reboot our test systems several times as their Bluetooth systems died on us, while Toyota Prius just kept going," Jarno Niemela, a researcher at F-Secure's Labs who carried out the tests, concluded. ®

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