Regardless of where you stand on the public opinion spectrum, it appears self-driving cars will definitely be a thing. However, with all the fuss about them, we often miss half the actual picture. Even worse – some issues are rearing their heads as we speak.

Why will driverless cars disrupt the future of mobility? Not because of their “driverlessness”, but because of their connectedness. They can share information at lightning-fast speeds all over the world, all at once. This is what makes them so appealing – they can react in real-time to issues happening miles away. No congestion, no slowdowns, perfect efficiency. Well, not without its price.

Where there is internet, there are cyberattacks. But hold on a second… Why should we bother discussing this? Smarter people are definitely all over those risks, are they not? Not to mention self-driving cars are not even here yet anyway. Do you know what is here though? Connected cars. They may not drive themselves yet, but they are speaking to one another. This begs the question: Who is listening?

The underlying issue of connected cars

Do you want to know a great rule of thumb? Always assume that behind every great innovation hides an equally great risk. Social media is a perfect example. We have all been sold the idea of it connecting us, but studies show it may actually be making us less social. And it may also have detrimental effects on our mental health.

There are two sides to every great invention, and connected vehicles are no exception. Do they have benefits? Without a doubt. Software updates on the go, instant crash reports, and a plethora of convenience options. On a statistical level, they make perfect sense. Autonomous vehicles are also paving the way for much-improved connectedness when they hit the market. But may we end up paying a bit too much for that?

No one considered airplanes becoming a weapon for terrorism, yet here we are. The internet that connects us has also allowed people to run underground networks more efficiently. And cars that make mobility better because they talk to one another… Well, is it hard to imagine that human ingenuity can figure out a way to exploit them?

Of course, concerns about cybersecurity have been raised before, but we hardly take them seriously. We simply do not understand them, as we find it difficult to get a grasp of the digital world. How can something not physically present harm us? What can be so dangerous about a hacked car network? Let us see!

What are the cybersecurity risks

When most people hear about cyber vulnerabilities, they imagine data leaks or virus issues. While in today’s day and age these are among the most common digital attacks, they are not the only ones. In fact, the most common by far are DDoS attacks.

With a DDoS issue, the entire car network can be brought down. It works by flooding the bandwidth with pointless queries, thus creating digital congestion. In other words, your car cannot communicate with the network. Right now, this may sound like a minor inconvenience, but imagine such vulnerability with autonomous vehicles. Their whole point is to be able to communicate with one another, and a DDoS attack prevents that.

What is even worse is that any wannabe hacker can initiate such an attack. It is very easy and with the advancement of technology, it gets progressively easier. So much so that the biggest networks in the world cannot prevent it. PayPal, Etsy, Twitter, Reddit, and countless others have all been victims of it.

Okay, you may say that this is an issue of the future. What should we worry about today? Here are just a few notable “hacks”:

  • Car theft – There have been cases of car theft through exploiting security holes of various car systems. The scary part? Some thieves have done that through a vulnerability in the entertainment system. Through it, they have managed to gain access to the entire vehicle.
  • Vehicle Control Exploits – Car theft is still relatively harmless. Imagine the possibility of losing control over your vehicle as you drive. It gets even worse – it can happen from a distant location, opening a door for a new kind of terrorism. This is a real scenario and is one of the things that security companies are working heavily against.
  • Data Leaks – We have to mention those, of course. Since your car is likely to be connected to your phone, certain vulnerabilities can give access to valuable personal information. Your entire driving history can be leaked. Driving habits, frequented locations, and other info can get compromised. Not a small concern, I would say.

Unfortunately, there are many points in the network that can have a vulnerability. Virtually every system that has to communicate with another one can house a potential risk. That means vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-device, vehicle-to-grid and who knows how many other communication routes.

Right. So far, I have probably done a good job of scaring you. Or at least raising your concern. It would not be fair though if I didn’t look at the counterpoint – that this whole thing is just fearmongering. One may say it is a Luddite attempt to slow down progress. Shall we check that theory out?

Is it simply fearmongering?

Some people have expressed skepticism towards all the remarks against the digital security of connected cars. To be fair, they do raise some interesting points.

Firstly, car thefts happen anyway. Whether a digital vulnerability makes it easier has not been proven. It may be another way of stealing the car, but there is no argument saying that car theft goes on the rise because of it. To put it simply – car thieves do not go up in numbers just because of digital vulnerabilities. Not to mention that those need to be some seriously tech-savvy car thieves.

Secondly, connected vehicles are a niche in the whole Internet of Things space. As the latter develops better security, so will connected cars. Plus, the chances of having your vehicle exploited through a vulnerability are not that high. Certainly not higher than having your identity stolen, for example.

Lastly, security companies are making full use of the current situation. They are developing solutions to help with cybersecurity in connected cars. Those who fear such issues may find a solace there. It is also likely big car companies will develop security teams of their own to deal with those issues.

What is the solution?

As connected cars become more of a thing, fearmongering will definitely come into play (if it has not already). This is the primary way some companies sell their services. Even now digital security companies are selling their services partly via fearmongering.

Interestingly enough though, nothing can protect your digital devices better than good personal privacy habits. I, for example, have not had a malware issue for ages. Yet this is not the case for many members of my family. They are simply not aware of how to properly navigate the digital world. That has them in a constant battle against viruses even though they have all kinds of anti-malware software installed. How do I know? Guess who they call for help!

The situation with connected cars is somewhat similar. It is up to you to learn some proper security habits when it comes down to it. For example, do not leave Bluetooth or Wi-fi connections open. Do not connect every random device to your car either. Using alternative accounts for your car alone may also be a good idea for privacy reasons.

That being said, this may not be that necessary. As connected car tech is finding its way into more vehicles, companies are doing their best to protect it. They have to because it would hurt them otherwise. As flying cars are being developed, imagine the issues if they do not have proper protection.

A few of the things that companies are currently doing include advanced encryption of all the vehicle connections. They also make sure to separate the different systems as much as possible. That way stealing your car through the entertainment system should not be a thing anymore. Additionally, apps are being heavily vetted to be allowed on cars. And finally, they are employing different verification algorithms to ensure maximum protection.

What do you think about connected cars?

I would not blame you if you are not convinced that connected cars are safe enough. Even I approach them with some skepticism, even though I am all about new technology. However, I do not think it is worthwhile to worry over things I cannot really control. If all cars become connected, I would still use them and not think twice about it.

What about you though? Do you still have some reservations about them, or are you looking forward to everything that connected cars are going to bring us?


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