Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller received an $80,000 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to explore just what hacklers could do if they gained control of a car. Using a Ford Escape and Toyota Prius, the pair demonstrated for Forbes what their hacks could do to a car, including causing brake failure, blasting the horn and even turning the wheel.
The New York Times reported in March 2011 that researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, had gained remote access to various car systems. Though the team didn't show they could wreak the kind of havoc Valasek and Miller did, the Times writes, "Because many of today’s cars contain cellular connections and Bluetooth wireless technology, it is possible for a hacker, working from a remote location, to take control of various features — like the car locks and brakes — as well as to track the vehicle’s location, eavesdrop on its cabin and steal vehicle data, the researchers said. They described a range of potential compromises of car security and safety."
Even though researchers have shown that they can gain access to cars, the odds of tonight's commute turning into hacker-orchestrated chaos are low. Jalopnik points out that hacking more than one car at once is a much taller order than just taking control of one.
If you're concerned about someone hacking your car, you can avoid it by driving an older car with limited electronic systems. Of course, that means giving up features like antilock brakes, air bags, stability control and traction control. All of those features have been proven to lower the risk of being in an accident, while the real-world risk of being hacked hasn't been fully proven yet.