For many drivers, getting in the car follows a routine: Use a key fob to unlock the car door, get into the driver’s seat, connect a smartphone to the car’s infotainment system, and then drive off.
Yet, when we asked drivers in a quiz addressing connected-car security, many failed to identify the best ways they could protect their data and their vehicles. Here’s where they fell short.
Key Fob Security
Some connected vehicles will automatically unlock when you approach them with the key fob in hand. This is called passive entry. In 2018, Tesla made headlines when several of its vehicles were stolen thanks to key fob hacking, which takes advantage of passive entry. According to a recent CarGurus quiz that asked drivers about connected-car security, 33 percent didn’t know that a key fob could be hacked. But it’s true: Any piece of tech that connects to the internet is vulnerable to hacking.
The Fix: Owners may be able to turn passive entry on and off (Tesla owners can do this through the company’s app). However, if owners want to use passive entry, putting their key fob into a metal case lined with aluminum foil when they’re not using it can block its signal and protect it from hackers.
Our quiz found that 70% of respondents who own a car have used vehicle-smartphone integration in the past year. This integration makes calling your contacts or listening to your favorite music and podcasts (or ordering takeout, if you’re connected to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant) easy.
But there is a trade-off for connecting your smartphone to your car. Doing so gives the car’s infotainment system access to your personal data, like your contacts. That data sticks around. If you don’t remove it, the next person in your rental car or the next owner of your car (if you trade it in) will have access to your personal information.
The Fix: A car’s owner or renter—not the manufacturer, the dealer, or the rental company—is officially responsible for wiping data from the car’s system. Make sure to delete your personal data and disconnect all integrated apps from your car’s or rental’s infotainment system. Not sure if you got it all? Restore the system to the car’s factory settings. You can usually do this from the car’s Settings menu.
Data Security Updates
Automakers periodically update their vehicles’ software. But unlike a computer update, which can happen automatically, connected-car updates may require a visit to your local dealer, as these updates have to be done via USB. (Some automakers, like Tesla and BMW, provide over-the-air updates, and more will likely do so in the future.) You would update your car’s software for the same reason you would your personal computer’s: to gain access to new features and patch any security holes that could leave it vulnerable to hackers.
The Fix: Since there is no consensus about how manufacturers alert consumers to necessary updates, keeping your car up to date can be difficult. Look out for manufacturer recalls. You can also check the manufacturer’s website or ask your local dealer.
With all this talk of security, it’s easy to forget hackers can physically access your car if you forget to lock it. In addition to the classic key fob that you can use to lock your vehicle, you can also use a digital keypad. Ford pioneered this keypad to allow people to get into their vehicle by inputting a key code, no physical key required. This feature is available on some Ford and Lincoln vehicles.
The Fix: Just like creating a password for your apps, you should create and implement a unique lock code (that you will remember).
Many automakers, including Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen, offer car-connected apps. These apps are pretty handy: They allow you to remotely lock and unlock your car, set the car’s thermostat, and remotely start the engine. And like other apps and accounts you use, they are vulnerable to hackers who may attempt to access your data.
The Fix: You’ve heard it before, but it’s true: Creating strong, unique passwords can make it harder for hackers to access your data.
Connected cars allow us to do more from the driver’s seat. However, they also require more of our personal data that, if not properly protected, can be stolen. Check out our infographic to learn more about the results of our survey.
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