Smart Cars May Leave Drivers’ Information Vulnerable

14 June 2015

It’s bad enough to have your car stolen under normal circumstances, but when smart cars are involved, the risks get a whole lot more complicated. Not only do you have to worry about the car itself and whatever was in it at the time it was stolen, you also have to consider the risk of identity theft posed by the fact that these cars are connected to cell phones and other devices that contain personal information.

In 2013, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) reported that 420 cars per day were stolen across the country. That's a rate of one car every three and a half minutes. Many car thefts are carried out by organized crime rings who scrap the cars and sell the parts for cash. According to the IBC, these crime rings keep lists of the cars they want most at any given point. Honda Civics are the model most frequently targeted for theft, and Quebec and Ontario are tied for the highest number of auto thefts by province.

Needless to say, when these organized crime groups seize smart cars, they are able to do more than just scrap them for parts.
“In recent years, the traditional methods, techniques and mindset towards auto theft has evolved,” said Patrick Clancy, Vice President of Law Enforcement for a major anti-vehicle theft device company. “Today, our vehicles hold critical information such as our phone contacts, registration and insurance details, even the address and directions to our home.”

Criminals don’t even need to physically steal a smart car to access its information. Recently, U.S. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts conducted a poll of auto manufacturers that found that the cyber-security protections on smart cars’ built-in technologies are nearly nonexistent, leaving such systems open to hacking.

“Many in the automotive industry really don’t understand what the implications are of moving to this new computer-based era,” Markey said in a public statement. “No longer do you need a crowbar to break into an automobile. You can do it with an iPad.”

Increasing the risk to drivers is the fact that car manufacturers routinely collect information on people who drive smart cars, including where the car is kept, its most commonly driven routes and how the entertainment system is used. This information would all be vulnerable in the case of a hacking attack.

According to Markey, "These findings reveal that there is a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers who may be able to take control of a vehicle or against those who may wish to collect and use personal driver information.”

Some consumer advocates have also raised concerns that smart cars’ controls could be taken over by hackers and cause accidents, but there has been little evidence that this is possible so far.

Signing up for a credit monitoring service can be a great way to monitor your credit file and help to alert you to possible identity theft.