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Car virus rumors taken out for a spin

After putting a Prius to the test, a team of antivirus experts concludes that cell phone viruses are unable to infect cars.

After putting a Prius to the test, a team of antivirus experts has concluded that cell phone viruses are unable to infect cars.

F-Secure said rumors that mobile phone viruses could spread to cars via Bluetooth were erroneous, after technicians at the security firm failed to infect the onboard computer of a Toyota Prius with Cabir, which spreads by Bluetooth and infects handsets based on the Symbian operating system.

This test comes after Russian antivirus company Kaspersky Labs said in January that it had been contacted by someone inquiring about removing a virus from a car's computer.

"It came as no surprise that we could not infect the car, but the Prius performed in the test even better than expected," F-Secure technician "Jarno" wrote in a posting to the company's blog dated Monday. "No matter what we did, the car did not react to the Bluetooth traffic at all. Cabir tried to send itself to the car, and the car just did not allow the transfer to happen."

The Toyota Prius, which has the same onboard computer as the Lexus cars reported in the initial rumors, supports Bluetooth so that phone book contacts can be transferred from a cell phone to the car's built-in phone. The technicians took the car 138 feet below sea level and used a Cabir-infected phone to try and infect it.

Warning lights
However, the F-Secure team was given a shock when the dashboard warning lights suddenly activated and all other functions in the car went dead. The onboard computer displayed the message: "The transmission lock mechanism is abnormal. Park your car on a flat surface, and fully apply the hand brake."

"Thoughts of massive product recalls started to float in our minds," the F-Secure blog posting said. "So we started from scratch and double checked everything. Going through the standard process of elimination by switching all Bluetooth devices off and waiting for some time, the problem repeated itself."

After three attempts with the same result, the technicians found that the battery was running low.

"The car computer was going haywire because of that, and the problem had nothing to do with Bluetooth! But those were quite tense moments indeed--we almost thought that the impossible might have happened."

Dan Ilett of ZDNet UK reported from London.