Is your Car Hacking Into Your Phone?
Smartphone Privacy & Security: Is Your Car Hacking Into Your Phone
Something slipped quietly into news feeds in the midst of the hype about China’s smartphones being porous, and India demanding data security assurances from her Asian neighbour. This quiet clip appeared in an article on an Orlando news site titled ‘Car tech privacy: Your car’s infotainment system might be grabbing data from your phone’. We decided this needed a closer look.
Cars Increasingly Have Minds of Their Own Computers
The snowballing number of computers in cars is another surprise encircling us in the Internet of Things. There are dozens of them adjusting the fuel and air that enters engines, triggering airbags, tensioning seatbelts, preventing brakes locking, and even allowing us to open the door, sit behind the wheel, and operate a computer-controlled key.
If Google has its way, our cars could soon be driving hands free. Someday we may even send the car solo to collect our internet shopping – what a pleasure that would be!
And Their Car Stereos Do More than Simply Play Music
In 2013, the United States Cyber Security Division wanted to know more about what was happening in cars. This makes sense given the worrisome attacks by car drivers nowadays in mainland Europe. Early experiments focused on planting physical surveillance devices with cellular communication capability.
Then they went one stage further, potentially affecting the privacy of the very citizens they were hoping to protect, by hacking into a car’s digital memory.
The U.S. Cyber Security Division’s project piggybacked onto a motor accident reconstruction system able to interrogate a car’s infotainment and telematics. This enabled them to geo-locate a vehicle at a particular split-second in past time, and calculate its speed and trajectory on impact. The company concerned was Berla, based in Maryland.
It does not take a leap of science to realise this information could travel live over a cellular connection. In 2016, Berla released this video detailing the seventy different computing devices it knew of in the average car.
Berla believes the most sophisticated cars may have up to one hundred different computers managing their advanced systems. Most vehicles have up to five networks joining these up. Together, this represents enough data to fill a one-terabyte drive in forty hours. More than a few of these devices report metrics to manufacturers over cellular space.
They Have Stereos Able to Hack Our Smartphones
Hands-free mobile while driving links our smartphone into this network of car computing devices. Entertainment systems now have Bluetooth and USB connections. Soon wireless near field communication will do away with wires as smoothly as Apple Android describes here. NFC can connect with passive devices and power them with an electromagnetic field.
Prepare to be worried about your car entertainment knowing more about what’s on your phone than you know about yourself. This could include call history, contacts, login codes and more travelling via USB or Bluetooth to the infotainment computer.
This Technology Is Not New, It Is Proven to Work
On 15 January 2017 Forbes staff writer Thomas Fox-Brewster posted ‘Car Tapping: How Feds Have Spied on Connected Cars for 15 Years.’ We should take him seriously. Thomas has freelanced for The Guardian, Vice Motherboard, Wired, and BBC.com since 2010, among many others. He was named BT Security Journalist of the year in 2012 and 2013 for a range of exclusive articles.
In 2014, he landed Best News Story for a feature on US government harassment of security professionals. We will draw the threads together with this quote from his article:
“It was little surprise to find General Motors had repeatedly worked with cops to hand over not just location, but also audio where conversations were recorded when the in-car cellular connection was switched on”.
There is no regulatory standard over this we know of, and as far as we are aware no way to turn the snooping off without interfering with the digital that manages our cars and keeps them safe. The message is clear. We are no longer private when we use our smartphones in our cars, in the hope of nobody eavesdropping on what we say.