Making a dinner reservation or buying theater tickets from your car’s dashboard is cool. But linking your car to the Internet needs to be thought out carefully.
According to a recent survey of manufacturers by research firm IDC, automobile cloud connections are not secure and won’t be for another three years or more. And some think that’s an overly optimistic assessment, mainly because the components are coming from different venders with different security protocols. Then too, the system is only as secure as its weakest link. As has already been demonstrated at the White Hat convention, DEF CON, and on CBS’s news show 60 Minute, a good hacker can bring a connected car to an instantaneous halt. Things to look for in a cyber-takeover are “sudden changes in the climate controls of the car, lost control of the windshield wipers, unlocking or locking of car doors,” says Sergey Lozhkin, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based security firm.
So how do you prevent a hacking disaster and secure your connected car? Here are some things to consider.
One way hackers can get access to your car’s computer system is through a smart phone. Some phones can carry malware and rogue programs that give others a connection to hack your vehicle. Ask your passengers not to use your WI_FI to access the Internet from your car and educate them about the risk. Do you know what all those kids in the back seat have on their phones?
Another strategy, if you already have internet connectivity in your vehicle, is to run software updates as soon as they become available. Tesla, the leader in the field of automobile cloud-connectivity, continuously upgrades emergency patch software that is then sent out immediately. “The security team constantly reviews and identifies new methods to defend our systems and protect our customers,” Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson says in an email. Currently, Tesla is the only manufacturer to upgrade over the air from a home Wi-Fi system. There is no need to worry transferring a virus here, says Martin Hunt, automotive industry practice lead at BT Global Services. He points out that there is a “natural air gap at the moment between the car and the house,” meaning malware in your cloud-connected car is unlikely to infect your home’s smart devices—and vice versa.”
Another preparedness strategy is to find out how seriously the manufacturer takes security when you are shopping for your next cloud-connected car. Ask your salesperson that question, and if they have an answer ask them to direct you to some material. Be sure to read the fine print to find out who to hold accountable if something goes wrong.
Be very wary about upgrading your 20 year-old car to what Konstantinos Karagiannis, chief technology officer, for BT America’s Security Consulting Practice calls, “this world of vulnerability they were never prepared for.” There are devices now on the market, like AT&T’s ZTE Mobley, that advertise that they can provide Wi-Fi capability to cars manufactured as early as 1996. It’s probably better to wait until these products have been tried in the real-world and found secure.
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