Using Technology To Fight Technology: Tackling Connected Car Hacks

May 9, 2014

In 2013, almost half of the 89,000 vehicles in London that were reported broken into or stolen were electronically hacked, according to a news report released yesterday. The investigation by

In 2013, almost half of the 89,000 vehicles in London that were reported broken into or stolen were electronically hacked, according to a news report released yesterday. The investigation by Sky News, on the back of crime analysis figures released by London’s Met police, indicates that despite car manufacturers producing more secure cars than ever before, criminals are using tech to hack connected vehicles. According to findings from the investigation, electronic car hacking devices are readily and cheaply available and we can expect to see car crime rates start to increase as a result.

What’s interesting about this is that it’s an example of technology being used for criminal purposes and while this is not internet-related today its not so hard to envisage that our smartphone will be used as the key for the car in the future. Take for example the Land Rover Incontrol™ remote smartphone app that today allows you to check fuel levels, range, find your car in a car park and even see if you left the windows open.

Industry reports indicate that 50 billion connected devices by 2020 – and that will include your car. AVG is already talking to car manufacturers about the infotainment system – the screen in the console that provides navigation tools, music, apps, Bluetooth etc. – which is usually the first generation of connectivity built into vehicles. I talked about this when I attended SXSW earlier this year as the connected car was a hot topic.

At that time, I predicted the risk hacking and the potential loss of personal data it presents to software-enabled cars and that security should be considered from the outset. The possibility for our lives to be hacked or our personal data to be stolen is becoming ever more real as we become more connected in ways that we have never envisaged. Having all of the in-car services connected to our online world potentially gives manufacturers access to data we may consider to be private, whether that’s our music and navigation data or more personally, our location, family information and potentially other sensitive information. So the physical loss of the car could in fact be coupled with the loss of personal privacy.

Therefore, the challenge for us as consumers of this technology is to understand what is connected, why it’s connected and what it might be sharing about us. That’s why we at AVG are looking at this market early on to ensure your future online activity, whatever it might be, is protected and secure.

Using electronic hacking technology to break into or steal cars is just the start. In the future, we can imagine many more scenarios as we expand our connected lives. For example, with their built-in Bluetooth option and integrated dashboards, cars are becoming the smartphones of the future. Our automotive partners have indicated that younger buyers have the expectation that their vehicle will be compatible with the connected devices they already have.

This will allow personal data to be shared on the screen which means it’s not just security that we have to be mindful of, but privacy as well. In addition, what if car hacks were malicious, and the goal was to meddle with your car’s driver system to adjust the braking, cruise control or steering? Manufacturers need to start thinking like technologists in order to build connected vehicles that deliver security and privacy, as well as a great driver experience.

The Sky News report also noted that the rise in car crime is likely to happen across Europe where these electronic hacking devices are currently available, but I imagine car manufacturers in the US are also keeping an eye on the trend in order to stay one step ahead of the criminals. So what can consumers do to protect themselves and their vehicles in the meantime? There is the sensible, practical advice around physically securing your car that, if anything, becomes more important in light of these findings.

From AVG’s perspective, as the online security company for devices, data and people with 187 million active users, securing the app stores for automotive manufacturers as we have already done with Renault and advising them on security concerns and requirements is part of our natural position in the market. It’s early days yet for integration between these two worlds but in working with car manufacturers more and more, we believe AVG is at the forefront of this important cross-industry collaboration.


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Tony Anscombe
May 9, 2014