Do our cars know too much? | Nathaniel Read

Do our cars know too much?

In the era of the Internet of Things, where even fidget spinners can connect to the internet, cars are obviously of huge potential to go online to improve driving ability, avoid congestion, share traffic data and deal with mechanical faults.

There are different ways your car could be connected to the internet; BMW, Audi/VW Group and most other car manufacturers now ship cars with so called smart features. iDrive (BMW) for instance can control comfort features (even remotely by preheating cars), alert emergency services in the event of a crash (by using onboard sensors), communicate with BMW if there’s a vehicle fault.

There have also apparently been cases where BMW have repaired mechanical failures remotely such as a broken sunroof by remotely operating their motors. Basic features of the vehicle can be features through an app like as preheating and flashing lights. In addition to the things people have come to expect from cars, through map and media input and getting live traffic (usually from from Google).

Tesla cars essentially have the display as the only way to interact with the car, potentially signalling the way all cars will turn when vehicle autonomy becomes commonplace, Tesla cars can also interact with smart home appliances too, in ways such as turning on the lights when you get home. The convenience potential for smart cars are huge

However in the other hand, this means cars are essentially just devices with SIM cards which interact with the internet and so are exposed if they have vulnerabilities. With smart printers turning on you after being infiltrated by their default credentials and due to most items running embedded Linux (usually through busybox) a botnet can be created pretty quickly.

The stakes are much higher however for security in your car over your toaster however, with car manufacturers support being able to control, start, stop or change any aspect of the vehicle through backdoors, so can potential hackers. Whether you’re comfortable with this kind of access depends on if you trust every feature inside a car being overridable from outside.

This video well demonstrates just how scary the potential is:

The Internet of Things for cars brings huge potential for the future, but as to whether security will keep up with this as time passes is a different matter. As to whether manufacturers will patch vulnerabilities in their cars into the future is something I really doubt, as many cars from 20 and even 30+ year old cars are still on the roads today.

Will planned obsolescence be forced upon car drivers too, or will people have to choose between getting to work safely in a new car, or risking a journey in a hacked car that could be used to extort or injure them?

  Banner image is Google Maps imagery, Google Inc 2017. Car icon adapted from Font Awesome and iconalliance