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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Modern cars are packed with sophisticated security systems, so it's easy to think that they can foil all but the smartest of criminals. However, it's these very computer systems that could be most vulnerable to hackers, warn researchers. And as computer systems control ever more car functions, the stakes are increasingly high.

Walk into any new car showroom today and the chances are you'll be able to find cars that can recognise if they're about to crash, know when it's raining, whether you are veering out of your lane or about to bump into the car behind when you're parking.

Security researcher Josh Corman told the BBC: "Cars today are not just computers on wheels. They are networks of computers on wheels." And it is this factor that poses the security risk, he says.

Mr Corman is part of grassroots group I Am The Cavalry (IATC) that focuses on communicating potential security issues facing the public, and cars are increasingly coming on its radar.

The researcher says that modern cars can feature up to 200 small embedded computers, which normally oversee one car subsystem. These are typically not engineered by the car manufacturers, but come from external suppliers that may or may not reveal how they work.

This may not concern manufacturers, but it opens up the risk of these systems being hacked into and hackers potentially being able to gain access to a locked vehicle for instance. Head of research at security firm NCC Group Andy Davis said: "If you can get access to that either physically or remotely you can essentially control the vehicle."

Research into the hackability of 21 vehicles found a wide range of potential security issues with everything from anti-theft systems to wireless tyre pressure sensors and telematics controllers.

Hackers being able to gain control of minor car systems may not seem a concern, however Mr Davis added: "The reason this has become much more of a high-profile, ongoing issue is because of the way things are going in the car industry and the whole idea of the connected car."