Senator Edward Markey, of Massachusetts has put 20 automakers in the hot seat. Markey wants to know how these automakers can secure vehicles from a cyber attack.
He recently sent out a letter outlining his concerns and asked specific questions about the steps automakers were taking to prevent cyber attacks.
New research from security experts have found that hackers could theoretically gain control of a vehicle and actually cause a crash.
In addition to information about securing the systems, Markey also wants to know what steps automakers are taking to protect the data that is collected by on board computer systems.
According to Markey, "As vehicles become more integrated with wireless technology, there are more avenues through which a hacker could introduce malicious code and more avenues through which a driverís basic right to privacy could be compromised."
Some of the automakers who received the letter were: Ford, General Motors, BMW, Mazda, Toyota, Volvo, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen.
While the automakers continue to stress that their systems are safe and that "Auto engineers are incorporating security solutions into vehicles from the first stages of design and production, and their security testing never stops" there are still concerns that hackers could take control of a vehicle.
These concerns are not unfounded; in 2010 computer scientists sent a frightening wake up call to the industry by providing research that showed that a virus could be planted in a vehicle and take control of main systems such as lights, locks and brakes.
Then in 2011 these same scientists found that they could remotely upload a virus to a vehicle from it's wireless systems, such as Bluetooth.
The National Highway Safety Administration has added a cyberscecurity research program of it's own in light of these findings; "While increased use of electronic controls and connectivity is enhancing transportation safety and efficiency, it brings a new challenge of safeguarding against potential vulnerabilities."
In an effort to force the automotive industry to take these threats more seriously, researcher have gone public with many of these findings.
Researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek presented a study funded by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Their White Paper showed that there was a way to force a Toyota Prius to abruptly brake... while traveling at 80 mph.
The paper also provided details on how to disable brakes on a Ford Escape traveling at slow speeds. This meant that it didn't matter how much pressure the driver applied to the brakes, the car wouldn't stop.
While not all security experts think this will become a significant problem, Senator Markey believes that it's time automakers stop downplaying the potential risks.
He may have a point!