150 million vehicles will be vulnerable to hacking by 2020

People are jumping on board the connected car bandwagon. Approximately 150 million connected cars are expected to be on road by 2020. Although connected cars enable drivers to access the internet with ease, they enable hackers to take control of vehicles as well.(1)

Earlier this year, hackers were able to take control of a Jeep Cherokee in a report featured in WIRED magazine. The hackers seized control of the vehicle by accessing its Uconnect system with nothing but a laptop and cell phone. Once the hackers were indirectly behind the wheal, they cut the breaks and drove the Jeep into a ditch.(1)

The on-board GPS not only allowed the hackers to take control of the vehicle; it allowed them to know the speed and location of the vehicle. In theory, they could have easily turned the Jeep into a kamikaze vehicle.

The hackers weren’t actually trying to take control of the Jeep in order to transform the vehicle into a weapon. Rather, they were hired to demonstrate how vulnerable connected cars are to hacking as a featured story for the magazine. As a result, Jeep subsequently recalled 1.4 million vehicles.(1)

Transforming vehicles into smartphones on wheels

Because of the incident, society’s consciousness has been raised about the threat of car hacking. Despite these concerns, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn promises that, by 2020, they will have transformed “all of our models into smartphones on wheels.”(1)

Whether or not turning cars into “smartphones on wheels” is a smart decision is an open question. Just last year, for example, an estimated 6,000 cars were stolen in London by criminals hacking their electronic locks. And in 2013, nearly half of the 89,000 vehicles broken into or stolen in London were electronically hacked.(1,2)

Theft or car accidents aren’t the biggest threat attached to connected cars. The personal data on board the vehicle is the most worrisome.

The personal data on board connected cars creates problems in selling these vehicles. If you sell your car with sensitive information in it, the new owner could use that information to break into your account and steal your money.

Although such a scenario may seem far-fetched, it is by no means impossible. Just consider how much personal data is stored on your computer. Now consider all the existing log ins, accounts, emails and contacts you have to wipe if you want to sell your computer. Forgetting to disconnect a single account can open the floodgates to cyber crime.

To protect or connect? That is the question

The same reasoning holds true with respect to connected vehicles. They will carry your accounts, passwords, bank account numbers and internet history. All of this information will have to be deleted if you want to sell your connected vehicle. In the event that a criminal steals your connected car, all of your personal information will be free game. Connected cars aren’t just a mode of transportation; they’re a physical extension of yourself.

Furthermore, suppose a criminal steals your connected car and is speeding down the freeway. Now suppose you remotely immobilized the vehicle in an effort to stop the criminal. In the event of a crash, would you or the criminal be held accountable for the carnage? These are the legal dilemmas that will accompany the coming age of connected vehicles.(2)

This isn’t to tar and feather connected vehicles all together. There are plenty of benefits attached to connected vehicles. In touting the benefits of connected vehicles, however, the car industry does a disservice to its customers by failing to note all the risks.

Word to the wise: Don’t trade a protected vehicle for a connected vehicle.

Sources include:

(1) News.Yahoo.com

(2) ComputerWorld.com

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