You’ve heard about the security risks to your computers, smartphones and tablets, but what about your car? Connected cars, which provide access to high-tech features via cellular service or Bluetooth, offer conveniences like navigation services and in-car Wi-Fi for entertaining the kids in the back seat. But those conveniences come with security risks that you may not be aware of.
If you’re shopping for a connected car packed with high-tech features, this is what you need to know before you buy.
If it’s connected, it can be hacked
The trouble with connected cars is that people think security for cars mostly involves locking them up when you walk away. But the high-tech features on a connected car present high-tech security challenges. If your car can access the internet for turn-by-turn navigation, someone on the internet might be able to access your car too. If you unlock your car using a smartphone app, a hacker might be able to do the same.
If you haven’t considered the probability that your car is now hackable, you may not be taking the same type of precautions that you do with your computer.
Hacking cars isn’t new
Having your car hacked may sound like science fiction, but we’ve heard reports of such hacks from as early as 2011. We’ve seen hackers track vehicle locations, unlock doors, slam on the brakes and take control of the steering wheel even when they’re nowhere near the vehicle itself. And while having your computer hacked could result in lost time, data or money, having your car hacked could result in serious injury.
Estimates say 75 percent of new cars will be connected by the year 2020. As connected smart cars become more common, so do the potential risks.
Beware of car apps
New research from IBM suggests apps used to unlock your car present a risk because when you connect your car to these apps, there may not be a way to disconnect it later. That complicates buying a used connected car or selling your connected car—or even simply sharing your virtual car key with a friend or family member. Unlike computers or smartphones, where you can simply delete your data and restore the device to factory defaults before selling, a car doesn’t typically present that sort of option. This can make buying used risky.
Keep up with security
The most important thing to remember with a connected car is to secure it just like you would a computer. Install security updates and patches whenever they’re released so that your car isn’t vulnerable to newly discovered hack attacks. Some cars install updates automatically without any intervention on your part, and if your vehicle offers this option, it’s the best way to ensure your car’s software is up to date. If your car doesn’t support automatic updates, be vigilant for updates for your vehicle.
If you have no idea how to update your car, your manual should cover the basics. For questions beyond that, try your local dealership. Make sure you understand how the smart features work, including how to update them and how to control who has access to them.
Security is improving all the time
While this may sound dire, remember that the first version of any gadget will have rough edges—and this principle is no different for connected cars. Car makers are constantly adding features and improving their software to make you safer. As new attacks come out, software is updated and improved. As long as you remember to keep your car’s software up to date, you should be okay.
Should you buy a connected car?
While connected cars are packed with useful features, owning another high-tech gadget that needs regular security patches may not be your idea of fun. If you don’t want to add “update the software on my car” to your regular to-do list, stick with an ordinary vehicle. Remember, a smartphone can do a lot of the tasks a smart car can do without being able to steer your car into a ditch if it’s hacked.
If you’re set on a connected car, here’s some advice:
- Buy your connected car new so you don’t have to worry what the last owner may still have access to. If that’s not an option, buy used from the dealership itself, where advisors have the best knowledge of the car’s software and security.
- Find out how the car’s software gets updated and whether it can update automatically. This ensures your new car won’t become another new technology headache.
- Do some research. If you’re looking at a particular make or model, grill the dealer about how the car’s smart systems work, how often the software is patched and what you need to do to update it.
[Image credit: connected cars concept via BigStockPhoto]