Connected cars: Leaving the door ajar for cybercriminals?

Your next new car is likely to connect - via the internet - to an assortment of applications and sensors in order to tap into valuable data. But questions are now being asked now on the potential privacy and security risks.

ICYMI: Hacking into cars, Chinese cyber-espionage and Siri's security flaw
ICYMI: Hacking into cars, Chinese cyber-espionage and Siri's security flaw

Modern-day cars already contain a huge amount of technology, with everything from anti-lock brakes and airbags to keyless entry, cruise control and parking sensors. They log data from the various sensors situated around the car, including the ECU (Engine Control Unit), to keep you up-to-date on fuel usage, air pressure, emissions and engine temperature.

The next step of that evolution, the ‘connected car', is in its earliest stages but is moving beyond just a  fanciful idea. Car manufacturing giants including BMW and Ford are increasingly opting for their cars to transmit and share data via embedded SIM cards running over mobile networks (this trend is more commonly referred to as the ‘Internet of Things'),  and Silicon Valley technology companies are watching with interest, keen to exploit the next big money-making operation in consumer electronics.

Back at the start of the year, Google formed the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) with Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and chipmaker Nvidia in an effort to boost the adoption of the Android operating system in automobiles, before rolling out Android Auto.

Not to be left behind, Apple announced a new system of its own – ‘Carplay' – which connects car infotainment systems with Apple devices such as the iPhone 5, 5C and 5S smartphones via iOS 7 and the Lightning connector.

Some key and discrete partnerships have been signed behind the scenes too; Google acquired GPS app developer Wave – most likely for navigation purposes, Ford signed deals with Spotify and Deutsche Telekom teamed up with Daimler. One suspects that Apple's numerous deals with mapping companies (Spotsetter, Broadmap and Embark, HopStop and Locationary) over the last year might be part of a broader automobile push.

The desire to be internet-connected in the car is not a new phenomenon; in recent times, cars have been built with integrated satellite navigation systems, iPads have made their ways into the back of car seats for children, and infotainment systems have been growing larger and more complex ever since chipmaker Nvidia first talked up the graphical performance of these back at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2009.

More recently Google has forged ahead with self-driving cars (to be trialled on the roads in three cities in the UK next year) and similar efforts are on-going at Audi, Nissan and Oxford University. This is causing another headache for security companies - the US' FBI recently warned that such vehicles could be turned into ‘lethal weapons'.

[Historians will no doubt point to Mercedes' self-driving car in 1995, which ventured from Munich and Copenhagen and back again, although this had some human assistance.]

The eventual aim now is that drivers will be able to purpose and download apps from the car, select their favourite music and navigation apps, and that they will also help us drive more smoothly and efficiently. Like Internet of Things devices such as the FitBit, we will able to track where we have been.

But car technology is now firmly on the map, with electric cars top of the agenda and connected cars not far behind. There's demand for cars to have their own networks to communicate with each other, and the issue was one of many tackled at a world-first event – the Connected Car Expo – which was held back in November in Las Vegas.

However, questions are being asked about whether the security and privacy risks are being addressed, and that is the topic of conversation in a new report conducted jointly by Kaspersky Lab and Spanish media company IAB.

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