iPod in Ford

The addition of things like MP3s hasn't been a huge problem yet because as long as the devices are disconnected from the car's computers and a virus is introduced, the worst that could happen is a malfunction of the device itself. But it's only a matter of time before smart hackers find a way in.

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A Glimpse into the Not Too Distant Future

Cas Mollien of Bazic Blue says that the advent of communication and entertainment devices is not yet a big problem. "As long as the multimedia interface is separated from the car's control computers, the worst that could happen is a malfunction of the multimedia equipment," he says. "However, as soon as these two components are connected, the door is wide open and it is only a matter of time for a smart hacker to find a way to cross over. Then we will have a problem."

That problem could quickly spread, literally, as the ability of car computers to communicate with one another improves. "Manufacturers are working on that and future vehicles will likely have the ability to share information about safety, traffic situations ahead and more," says Robert Hills of the Universal Technical Institute.

Not surprisingly, automakers are said to be working on ways to prevent hackers from introducing viruses into cars and otherwise making mischief, although details of their efforts are not readily available. Still, opinions are mixed about how much of a concern this really is for future drivers. Petraglia of Chartstone Consulting says the time to start planning is now, since it will allow for preventative measures to be implemented before the problem is pervasive.

But ESET researcher Goretsky isn't losing any sleep about it. "We always have to worry about risks everyday, whether it's using a computer or driving a car," he says. "The potential risk of a computer virus on an automobile would certainly not prevent me from buying one."