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Watch out for the traffic jam hackers

Lost cause: Google’s mapping software potentially leaves drivers vulnerable to rogue traffic condition reports.

Paper shows how anyone can turn the daily commute into a nightmare

General News logo20 Mar 2013

HACKERS have shown a computer security conference in Europe how easy it is to create traffic chaos -- from anywhere in the world.

The paper, presented to the Blackhat Europe conference yesterday, says the integration of Google Maps into cars opens the door for hackers to manipulate data and either feed drivers into a traffic jam, or even divert them from free-flowing roads where the mapping software thinks the traffic is congested.

Tobias Jeske, a doctoral student at the Institute for Security in Distributed Applications of the Hamburg University of Technology, said mobile phones using Google’s mapping applications shared their information with Google, which then used the data to update real-world travel times that were sent to other users’ devices.

According to Mr Jeske, hackers can log the data from a real-world traffic jam, and then alter the information before uploading it at a later date and tricking Google into thinking the road is once again clogged.

The paper includes a real-world demonstration of what a hacker can do.

“In our attack, an attacker having reduced nancial means can manipulate trafc data worldwide,” Mr Jeske says.

“As a consequence, an attacker can make people drive into trafc jams or keep roads clear if trafc data is used for navigation.”

The paper recommends that phone developers rethink the way that traffic data is collected -- before it is too late.

“The rapid development in the smartphone and automotive sector indicates the trend to considerreal-time information for navigation,” it says.

“It is only a matter of time until hackers actively perform such an attack.”

Internet-friendly car-makers including Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are starting to integrate Google into their vehicles to provide real-time navigation and information services for drivers.

Google Australia was contacted for comment.

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