My parents taught me to drive safely. Back then that meant wearing my seat belt, paying attention to the road and obeying the posted speed limits. Today things are different. Staying safe while driving also includes protecting your car against hackers.
It was headline news last year when a pair of security researchers “playing bad guys” successfully used the Internet to disable a car as it traveled on the highway. The ensuing media coverage proved alarming enough to result in the recall of 1.4 million cars.
It’s easy to see why car hacking is such a concern. While most technology hacks today put a consumer’s information at risk, hacking into a car could potentially endanger the lives of drivers and passengers.
In the wake of the much-publicized hack, a debate formed about whether hacking connected cars truly posed a risk. Some argue that the connected car represents one of today’s biggest security risks. Others believe these fears are overblown and people shouldn’t worry about any potential threat.
Last month this debate took a new turn when the FBI, Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly released a public service announcement (PSA) warning consumers about the dangers of cars’ being remotely hacked.
The threat isn’t limited to the newest and most high-tech cars, either.
Most vehicles manufactured over the last 20 years contain computers that control a variety of functions such as the engine, brakes and steering. And some of these systems have wireless capabilities, including remote entry devices, diagnostic monitors, and navigation and entertainment systems. This creates a pathway for hackers to gain entry to the car’s computer systems remotely.
Automakers and legislators have taken notice of these concerns and are working to make vehicles more secure against potential cyberattacks. In the meantime, the PSA serves as a high-visibility warning to consumers about the need to protect their vehicles.
The PSA recommends that consumers take the following steps to protect the cybersecurity of their vehicle:
- Keep the automotive software up to date and follow any recalls that require manual patches of the vehicle’s software.
- Avoid making unauthorized changes to the vehicle’s software.
- Be cautious about connecting any insecure devices to the car’s network.
- Be careful about giving strangers physical access to the vehicle.
- Inform the FBI of any suspected cyberattacks on a vehicle.
Ultimately, the message to consumers is that their vehicles are more than just a means of transportation — they’re also connected devices. As such, consumers need to protect the cybersecurity of their vehicle in the same way they’d protect their smartphone or computer.
Neal Walters is a policy research senior analyst for the Financial Security Team who publishes on topics including information privacy and security, technology, identity theft, affordable home utilities, prepaid cards and credit reporting. Follow Neal on Twitter @policynw.