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Security, privacy gaps put U.S. drivers at risk

Lucas Mearian | Feb. 10, 2015
As vehicle manufacturers rush to adopt mobile-friendly platforms and wireless technologies, they've neglected to plug security and privacy gaps, a new report revealed.

As vehicle manufacturers rush to adopt mobile-friendly platforms and wireless technologies, they've neglected to plug security and privacy gaps, a new report revealed.

Released today by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the report is based on responses from 16 major automakers to questions from the lawmaker around security vulnerabilities and how driver information is collected and protected.

The report, Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk, indicates the U.S. paints a picture of a U.S. vehicle fleet that has fully adopted wireless technologies like Bluetooth and even wireless Internet access, but has not addressed the real possibilities of hacker infiltration into vehicle systems. Additionally, there is widespread collection of driver and vehicle information without privacy protections for how that information is shared and used.

The first part of the report focuses on how modern technologies give hackers windows of opportunity.

"Nearly 100% of vehicles on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions," the report states.

Most automobile manufacturers, the report says, were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents.

Markey posed his questions after studies showed how hackers can get into the controls of some popular vehicles, causing them to suddenly accelerate, turn, kill the brakes, activate the horn, control the headlights, and modify the speedometer and gas gauge readings.

With the rise of navigation and other features that record and send location or driving history information, Markey said he wanted to know what auto manufacturers are doing to address these issues and protect drivers.

To date, any security measures that have been taken by automakers to prevent remote access to vehicle electronics "are inconsistent and haphazard across the different manufacturers," the report said.

Only two automobile manufacturers were able to describe any capabilities to diagnose or meaningfully respond to an infiltration in real time, and most said they rely on technologies that cannot be used for this purpose at all, the report said.

"Drivers have come to rely on these new technologies, but unfortunately the automakers haven't done their part to protect us from cyber-attacks or privacy invasions. Even as we are more connected than ever in our cars and trucks, our technology systems and data security remain largely unprotected," Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a statement. "We need to work with the industry and cyber-security experts to establish clear rules of the road to ensure the safety and privacy of 21st-century American drivers."

The report also delves into privacy and how features like navigation are quietly recording and sending out vehicle driving history.

Most automakers use technology that collects and wirelessly transmits driving history information to data centers, including third-party data centers, "and most did not describe effective means to secure the information," the report states.

 

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