Blog: Used connected cars pose data security risk - Mobile World Live

Blog: Used connected cars pose data security risk

23 FEB 2017

Would you ever sell your second hand smartphone or PC without first scrupulously scrubbing all trace of personal information from it?

What about your connected car?

Charles Henderson, a researcher with IBM, recently warned in a blog your smartphone may remain ‘connected’ to your old vehicle for years after it is sold, and called for vehicle manufacturers to take action to ensure owners are disconnected when they sell up.

Henderson said the connection persisted despite him going to great lengths to wipe his data from the vehicle: “I deleted all my personal information from the car, reset the phone book, removed all connected devices and reset the garage door opener.”

The researcher added his efforts were complemented by his car dealer, which checked all personal data was cleared.

While ostensibly a peculiar quirk of the connected car market, Henderson noted the issue raises questions regarding the broader Internet of Things (IoT) market, including whether auto makers are deliberately developing IoT “functionality for the first owner because that’s where their revenue comes from?”

The nub of Henderson’s argument was he could still see his old vehicle in the connections menu of his replacement car, which was from the same manufacturer. While this availability doesn’t seem to have granted Henderson the ability to do anything so drastic as take control of critical functions on his old vehicle, he was clearly concerned about the security implications of his data effectively being left on the old car – and indeed the flip side for the vehicle’s new owner.

Problems growing
Henderson’s warning comes amid growing discontent with connected cars.

Consumer insights company J.D. Power this week said technology related problems are contributing to worsening reliability in vehicles. The company’s 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study noted technology issues impacted US drivers’ perception of reliability for the second year in a row, with the most troublesome area being so-called infotainment systems (which J.D. Power refers to as audio, communication, entertainment and navigation, or ACEN).

Some 22 per cent of the 35,186 original owners of 2014 model vehicles quizzed by the company cited problems with ACEN systems compared with 20 per cent in the 2016 survey. Bluetooth was a flash point for the third year in a row in the 2017 report, with the main issues surrounding pairing and connectivity, and “built in voice recognition misinterpreting commands.”

The company also noted a growing number of vehicle owners are having problems with the battery, though it is unclear if the issues are related to the rising levels of technology and electronics being fitted to vehicles or a decline in battery quality.

Autonomous vehicles
In terms of autonomous or self-driving vehicles, the potential problems go beyond whether the technology actually works.

Proposed UK government legislation highlights changes required in the insurance industry to ensure autonomous vehicles are protected regardless of whether a person or the car is in control, BBC News reported. The suggested laws would also make drivers liable for any insurance claims in the event they have tampered with built-in software or failed to install updates mandated by their insurance policy, the news outlet said.

A separate BBC News report highlighted there are other problems to be overcome in auto-makers’ push to create self-driving cars, including delays in the vehicle relinquishing control to real-life drivers when the limits of on-board technology are reached.

The report cites such problems as a reason Ford, for one, aims to develop fully autonomous vehicles, skipping stages which would see self-driving technology gradually introduced into its vehicles – effectively taking the person out of the equation altogether.

Many of the reader comments posted to the article also focused on the issue of who is to blame in the event of an accident, while one user noted the drive to autonomy will simply mean driver error is replaced by software failures.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Michael Carroll

Michael doesn’t want to admit that he has been a journalist and editor for close to 20 years covering a diverse set of subjects including shipping and shipbuilding, fixed and mobile telecoms, and motorcycling...More

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