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Once your car's connected to the Internet, who guards your privacy?

Lucas Mearian | Sept. 19, 2014
Once mobile devices are connected to car infotainment systems and cars are connected to the Internet, vehicles will become a rich source of data for manufacturers, marketers, insurance providers and the government. Oh, and they'll be a lucrative target for hackers, too.

Perhaps even worse, if it were possible to hack into onboard systems, malicious software could be downloaded to a car's computers, with potentially deadly outcomes. Among other things, a piece of malware could, for example, "tell the braking control system to suddenly activate," Schneider said.

"As there's more and more network communications going out to cars from manufacturers, over time that will become more of a risk," Schneider said.

Ultimately, he said, it will be up to each manufacturer to establish privacy policies and make them transparent. "A lot of this will be opt-in," Schneider said.

Even so, driving statistics can be anonymized and used to improve roadways. For example, analysis of vehicle tracking data could play a role in efforts to improve intersections where there are a lot of accidents.

The in-vehicle navigation service TomTom, for example, routinely provides anonymized information to police, Bonte said. "It can tell them where the riskiest places are where cars get broken into. That's useful for police patrolling," she said.

However, "consumers became very concerned that [such data] could also be used [to detect] speeding and other vehicle behavior," Bonte added. "TomTom had to be very clear they'd only provide anomymized, average statistical data and leave out names or types of vehicles."

As Bonte points out, however, "anything" can be hacked no matter what security measures are taken. "There's no such thing as 100% safe network," she said. "As soon as something is connected to your car, you risk someone getting their hands on that data."

The level of risk is increasing because the number of wireless connections to vehicles and the number of mobile devices people carry are both increasing daily.

Mobile devices are already being connected to vehicles through APIs such as Apple's CarPlay, Google's Automotive Link and the OS-agnostic standard MirrorLink. And more manufacturers are now offering in-vehicle Wi-Fi routers as an option.

As the automobile industry moves toward connected vehicles that communicate with one another and the infrastructure around them, vehicles are becoming wireless devices on wheels.

"Today, there's a much bigger risk of downloading viruses to your vehicle or suffering cyberattacks," Bonte said.

Schneider said Symantec is currently doing "a lot of work" with vehicle manufacturers to create security identity models that can be used to protect user information.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors recently announced plans to sign up security researchers to hack its vehicles. The company plans to hire up to 30 full-time hackers to find vulnerabilities in the firmware of its vehicles.

Wearables go with you on the road

The fast-emerging wearables market, whose offerings include products such as Google Glass eyewear and smartwatches like the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and the just-announced Apple Watch, is yielding a whole new class of products capable of transmitting user data.


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