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U.S. Senator’s Report Exposes Vulnerability of Connected Cars

February 10, 2015

The more connected cars become, the more vulnerable they are to hacking. Many people already know this, but it was not until recently that the issue of how secure connected cars are has been thrust into the spotlight. Early this month, BMW announced that it has discovered and addressed a security flaw that could have allowed hackers to access approximately 2.2 million vehicles. On Monday, the threat of cyber attacks was again put front and center after a U.S. senator released a report that showed just how vulnerable connected cars are to these kinds of attacks.

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) released a report entitled “Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk,” which was based on the responses of 16 automakers to the security- and privacy-related inquiries he sent on December 2013. The questions were mostly about what companies are doing to protect vehicles from unauthorized remote access and how they manage the customer data gathered by vehicle systems.

According to the report, wireless technologies (including Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity) as well as vehicle systems like telematics make vehicles more prone to cyber attacks and invasions of privacy. This is a big problem not only because most vehicles sold at present are equipped with these technologies, but also because vehicle manufacturers do not have the proper security measures in place to safeguard vehicles from hacking.

Senator Markey discovered that security measures varied from automaker to automaker and that the only two companies which knew how to respond in the event of a cyber attack depended on technologies that do not properly address the issue. Because the systems have security flaws and the companies’ security measures are lacking, vehicles become an easy target for hackers.

Just like security, privacy of motorists is also a major concern. Technologies such as navigation allow automakers and third-party service providers to collect large amounts of data, but these parties currently have no way to effectively secure the information they have gathered. When asked how they utilize personal data, vehicle manufacturers give vague responses, like saying they use the information to improve customer experience. One key problem with data collection is that customers are often unaware that their information are collected and stored. As for how long the data stays stored, automakers have different answers.

Senator Markey’s report was clearly a call for action not only for automakers but for all parties involved, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the government. He stressed that there is a need for everyone to take action in order to guarantee the safety and privacy of drivers in the U.S.

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