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Lexus a nexus between cars and phone viruses?

Cars may be the next target for virus writers. Kaspersky Labs is investigating reports of the luxury brand being infected.

Antivirus companies are researching reports that computer viruses have attacked the onboard computers of cars.

Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs was asked last weekend how to disinfect the onboard computers of several Lexus models: LX470, LS430 and Landcruiser 100. The security company was told that the infection likely occurred via a mobile phone.

Some mobile-phone viruses already exist, such as Cabir and Skulls, which spread by Bluetooth and infect handsets based on the Symbian operating system. Many Lexus cars include a navigation system that can connect to a mobile phone over Bluetooth to allow hands-free calls, and Kaspersky believes that Bluetooth could be used to transmit a virus to a car's GPS navigation system.

However, it is unclear which operating system Lexus uses for its navigation system. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"We know that car manufacturers are integrating existing operating systems into their onboard computers--take the Fiat and Microsoft deal, for instance," said Eugene Kaspersky, head of antivirus research at Kaspersky Labs. "If infected mobile devices are scary, just think about an infected onboard computer."

David Emm, senior technology consultant at Kaspersky, said it was plausible that mobile phones could infect cars.

"It's certainly a possibility, but at this stage, it seems theoretical," Emm said. "The question is whether (onboard computers) have been subjected to attacks from (devices running the) Symbian operating system. I suspect that this will be done with a handset."

Kaspersky is still researching the reports.

Until two-way wireless transmissions were banned in races, Formula 1 racing cars were equipped with antivirus software to prevent virus attacks on the car's operating system.

Dan Illet of ZDNet UK reported from London.