How Connected Cars Are Becoming The Next Big Cyber Security Problem

How Connected Cars Are Becoming The Next Big Cyber Security Problem

April 6, 2020 Off By Hoofer

Article Written by Sally Perkins

Computer systems have revolutionized the way that driving is done, but it has brought with it a myriad of data security problems. Cloud technology in the automotive sector will continue to develop, with Emerj insights highlighting the view of many major manufacturers that connective cloud-based data will be key to the emerging self-drive trend which heavily relies on large datasets for machine learning. While there are undeniable benefits to the presence of extensive computer systems in our vehicles, hazard detection, mobile device and internet connectivity, and navigation all present attack vectors for criminals. 

The implications of self-driving technology

Undoubtedly the most prominent combination of technology and engineering is the electric car. These cars often act as tech demos for the most advanced features on the market. Tesla is at the cutting edge of this field; their self driving electric cars the most advanced on the market. However, Tesla’s fame has made their vehicles a target for hackers who have been able to trick the self-driving software into switching lanes, causing the car to swerve into oncoming traffic. For the moment, the majority of these vulnerabilities are first found by researchers and published for the purpose of patching, but as self driving cars become more popular, there will no doubt be an increase in the number of bad actors. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever for prospective buyers to pay more attention to the quality of the vehicles available on the market. The continued development of safe self-driving and autopilot technology relies on the ability for connected cars to store diagnostic and navigational data on the cloud where manufacturers can freely access it.

How connectivity impacts security

One of the earliest and simplest examples of wireless connectivity was remote door locking and unlocking, which today has advanced to remote engine starting. This low-tech feature has allowed hackers to remotely unlock and steal cars using cheap and readily available components, a sobering demonstration of the security cost associated with convenience. Many cars now take voice commands and can interface directly with our smartphones and watches; some even provide internal wifi hotspots for mobile devices. This interconnectivity is the main source of concern from a cyber security perspective, and the implications are potentially fatal.

While a traditional computer virus can cause serious financial and emotional harm, in the vast majority of cases these will not have any physical consequences. Infected automated cars, on the other hand, have the potential to cost lives if proper precautions such as regular software updates are not observed. At the very least, as the cars themselves begin to store more data on the cloud, automotive viruses present a risk to our data privacy should they be compromised. As part of the “internet of things (IoT)”, cloud-connected cars are as vulnerable as any other smart device, and without regular update cycles, their systems will eventually be compromised.

Smartphone app stores are a growing threat to data security, and as the ecosystem of automotive-focused apps grows, so too will the number of malicious apps. As a larger proportion of our data is stored on the cloud rather than our devices, this becomes an even more serious threat to data privacy. This presents a threat to our personal information as well as our physical safety as the nature and amount of it stored on the cloud progresses.

Taking the above into consideration, we must remember that not all threats are external. Though much of the technology built into modern cars is geared towards safety, the increasing presence of screens and cloud-based technology in our cars brings with it a worrying array of distractions which drivers must be aware and cautious of. Automotive security as a field is still developing, but ultimately, the security of any device is dependent on the end user’s adherence to proper precautions. The most important of these are regular software updates, not just for our cars, but for our mobile devices too.


About the Author

Sally Perkins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.

Photo by Mike from Pexels