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network Source: AAP
FORMULA One teams are on full-scale alert to stop computer hackers causing havoc with cars in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.
New rules introduced to F1 this year allows teams to use computers to control all electronic aspects of the car while it is actually involved in the race.
The technology, called bi-directional telemetry, allows engineers to make changes to the car while it is on the track.
But it has also increased the risk of computer hackers turning F1 into a real-life video game by breaking into systems and taking control of key aspects of the car.
"There is potential for that," admits Williams chief operations engineer Sam Michael.
"There's potential that if your system's not coded properly, you could have a situation where it gets false messages.
"If it happened, the biggest danger you would have is a change on the engine side - detonating the engine."
Bi-directional telemetry is not new to F1.
It was banned from the sport in 1993, but F1's governing body voted to reintroduce it this year, starting with Sunday's season opener in Melbourne.
The key to bi-directional telemetry is an aerial on the side of the F1 car, which sends data through a microwave link back to computers in the pits.
The data is assessed and engineers decide if any changes should be made to key areas such as differential and traction control, power, fuel and oil consumption.
The driver is warned of any incoming changes from the pit via a display on his steering wheel, then presses a button to acknowledge the changes being made.
Jordan team technician Gilles Flaire, a former French secret service agent, believes the bi-directional telemetry could face attack from hackers during a race weekend and cause "a disaster".
"If the bi-directional telemetry allows those in the pits to control essential parameters of the car, it will be possible to interfere in the systems through devious methods," he told this month's Sport Auto Moto magazine.
"It will be difficult to spy, but easy to distract the radio communications between the car and pit. "In addition, it will be easy to hide or mask the original message by preventing it from reaching its final destination.
"Eventually, if someone will be so good to find the signal that blocks everything, it can and will create a disaster." But F1 teams have introduced complex safeguards along with the technology to keep would-be hackers at bay.
Pre-set secret codes for those authorised to make changes, encrypted data to ensure other teams can't access information and built-in limits on the amount of changes that can be made at any one time are what teams are banking on to keep their multi-million dollar cars secure.
"There's a lot of things you can put into place to try and stop it (hacking), by having pre-set codes before a computer receives an instruction, and that's probably the best thing you can do," Michael said.
"In terms of someone blocking your frequency to stop a message coming through, there's not much you can do about that.
"But for them to send a command that makes it change a command that you don't want it to change, they would have to have some type of inside knowledge to your company because everything's coded.
"It has to receive a certain message before it changes anything."
Computer hackers have already had a taste of F1.
Renault admitted last year that hackers had broken into its system and stolen designs for its 2001 car.