Who could be driving our ‘Connected’ vehicles?

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The Mobile World Congress is held every year in Barcelona, Spain, during the last week of February. The aim of this the largest consumer mobile phone trade show in the world is to introduce some fascinating mobile technologies and concepts to the world and show a glimpse of future possibilities.

Amidst thousands of mobile phone enthusiasts and technophiles, several automobile companies unveiled their latest cars with Blackberry embedded Porsche 911 and Samsung phone app integrated to a Toyota model’s software stealing the limelight.

While many people revelled at the integration of mobile technologies with automobiles, some people are alarmed about the risks  involved with the latest developments. Experts say that just like any PC or smartphone, these computerised vehicles can also be breached, resulting into a more dangerous outcome.

“We typically don’t drive our smartphones at 80 miles an hour. But safety concerns and privacy concerns all culminate when you talk about automobiles,” said Brian Contos, security strategist at technology protection firm McAfee.

During the last few years, almost every vehicle that has been manufactured with an inbuilt computer circuit to a certain level. These vary from entertainment systems to security systems that control the brakes and acceleration. With systems that can avoid crashes and calls for help automatically after accidents, automobile safety has gone up to a new level.

Google is also working on their driverless car project which would enable automobile users to control their car remotely through a computer.

Technology pundits are suggesting that the technology of having cars linked to cell phones, Bluetooth or even low range radio transmitters increases the risks people might start facing if they turn against us.

Computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego and University of Washington carried out an experiment on a sedan by using an audio CD infected with a virus and gained remote control of the safety systems of the vehicle.

“Modern automobiles are pervasively computerized, and hence potentially vulnerable to attack,” they argued in a report to the US National Academy of Sciences.

In a real life situation, a frustrated ex-employee of a firm providing web-based vehicle-immobilisation systems reportedly managed to disable 100 cars in Austin, Texas, in 2010.

There are many financial factors that would motivate a hacker to gain control of your car, a simple example that Contos provided was that the hacker could send a signal to your car to warn you about tire pressure, and the reaction of any logical driver would be to pull over and check the tires. This would be an easy way to carjack someone. He also pointed out that hackers could carry out attacks to create havoc. Terrorists’ access to cars could create mass level mayhem in towns and cities across the world.

Apart from the safety issues, there are privacy data thieves who could get access to information that is downloaded into your vehicle through devices or navigation details of driving.

Vehicle manufacturers are only too aware of this problem that they might face with their technological advances. Bill Ford, great grandson of Model-T creator Henry Ford, and now the auto giant’s executive chairman, said he traveled to Barcelona this week partly to address security concerns.

He spoke to many mobile service providers who are faced with similar hacking issues and trying to come up with solutions as they go on. “For now, what we’re working with is opt-in; you can opt-in with how much you’re comfortable with.” he said.

With this new technology your car will know where you are at every moment in time, which is great for safety reasons. “But the downside of that potential is someone knows where you are every second, and that’s something we’re going to have to work through,” Bill Ford added.

“Although there are many concerns with the modernisation of automobiles, people aren’t going to go back to driving the Model T any more than they’re going to go back to rotary telephones because of the risks on smartphones,” Brian Contos concluded while pointing out that manufactures will have to struggle to keep abreast of rapidly-evolving threats unless they organise regular software updates.

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