Is Your Car an Unsecured Public Hotspot?


Long gone are the days of cars equipped with an 8-track and an AM/FM radio.  Today, automobiles are outfitted with high-end wireless systems and gadgets, making car lovers and everyday consumers swoon. At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, car technology was at the forefront, but security precautions were nowhere to be found.

New Gadgets Galore

Today, drivers and passengers can connect to WiFi anytime; hear their Facebook newsfeed, and access electronics in their home, all from the comfort of their vehicle. As much as this is an exciting development, both on the technology front and in advancing the automobile industry, these gadgets are another way in which cybercriminals can gain access to your personal information. The most important component to any new technology is security, and this piece seemed to be missing from the thrilling reveal at CES.

General Motors unveiled a new feature as part of their OnStar suite, turning your car into a mobile hotspot. It uses 3G/4G to supply Internet access to the car, and then uses WiFi to connect to whatever you want.

Harman Industries debuted a cloud-based entertainment system that has a Facebook station.  Using an app, you can listen to updates in your newsfeed, and record your own updates via an audio clip.

Mercedes introduced a smart watch, allowing users to lock and unlock doors, control climate, read tire pressure, and even display an electronic vehicle’s charge rate. As if that wasn’t smart enough, Mercedes also developed another device that opens communication between your house and your car.  With this new device, you can change your home’s temperature and monitor smoke and carbon monoxide alarms all from the driver’s seat.

Using the wireless connection in the car, Audi has developed a product called, “Intelligent Traffic Management.” This tool allows users to see whether upcoming traffic lights are red or green, and how long you will have to stop at red lights. Audi also introduced a tablet that is installed in the car, letting users control the temperature, radio selections, and volume. It can also connect to the Internet via a high-speed WiFi network installed in the car.

Now the Bad News: Your Car Can Be Hacked

Our society tends to adopt cool, new technology before thinking through security issues and adequately providing solutions. Developers need to take security into account from the very beginning of the development process. Nearly all devices can be compromised, and that anything containing software and has networking capabilities is vulnerable to outside attacks, now including your car.

In his recent TED Talk, Avi Rubin, Professor of Computer Science and Director of Health and Medical Security at John Hopkins University, explained how easy it was to hack into a car’s wireless system posing a serious threat. He discussed that researchers were able to launch remote attacks against a car’s wireless systems, and could disable the brakes, change the odometer reading, and install malware. They were even able to steal a car by finding it via its GPS system, overriding its remote lock/unlock feature, and then starting the engine.

So before you install all the latest wireless gadgets in your car, be sure that you understand the potential security risks, and acquire adequate protection.

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.

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