Connected Car Security: Why Cars Have Never Been Safer
By Todd Wasserman
Connected car technology has brought a number of exciting features that make driving easier and safer than ever before, including systems that automatically maintain a safe following distance and ensure you stay in your lane, real-time traffic alerts, and even the ability to share data with emergency service providers. But as with any new technology, some may have concerns about the security of these connections and whether driver data will remain private. We're here to help you sort through some key myths and facts surrounding connected car security, and recommend steps to keep your vehicle secure.
The State of Connected Car Security
So far, there have been no documented cases of a remote connected car hacking outside of a testing environment. What's more, automakers are working closely with the companies producing the sensors, cameras, onboard software and all other components of connected car technology to ensure the technology meets the highest security standards, and that best practices that have been developed in other industries are applied to their vehicles.
As TrueCar VP of Industry Insights Eric Lyman points out, it’s a lot like the early days of online banking. "There was a lot of concern about exposing the information to the 'interwebs' and making it vulnerable," he says. "Any new technology is going to have some trepidation about security and what it means for the human race."
Despite those initial concerns, it's widely accepted that the connected car industry is here to stay. Technology research provider Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be a quarter of a billion connected cars on the road.
Choosing Secure Technology
If you’re considering buying a connected car, follow these steps to ensure maximum safety:
Ensure that the carmaker uses encryption across all communications in your connected car. While all connected vehicles encrypt data that's transmitted over the Internet, only some vehicles encrypt communication between car parts (like the pedal to the breaks).
Check to see that internal systems are segmented. The tire pressure sensors should only talk to the dashboard, for instance. This ensures that a compromised tire pressure sensor can't provide access to critical systems.
Always keep your software up-to-date. Automakers provide "over-the-air" updates which are wirelessly transmitted to your connected car. These updates optimize your car's performance and keep it secure, similar to software updates on your computer or smartphone. For this reason, it's important that you allow the software to update right away.
Be smart about aftermarket connected car parts. Check with your auto dealer to ensure that the ones you're considering buying are safe.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Ultimately, determining if connectivity is for you comes down to whether your concerns about the technology outweigh the documented safety benefits. A number of studies have shown that collision avoidance systems reduce crashes. For example, a 2013 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that automatic braking systems reduce rear-end crashes by about 40 percent on average, and forward collision warning technology resulted in a 23 percent reduction in accidents. Lane departure warnings and lane-keeping assist have been shown to substantially reduce collisions as well. Over-the-air software updates, meanwhile, ensure vehicles’ security remains up-to-date.
Lyman describes it as a decision between a perceived risk and a real one. For him, the choice is clear: “When you measure the actual risk, which is extremely small, versus the benefits of the safety technologies that we've seen from a modern car, I'd always recommend a modern car."