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Internet of Things: How to protect smart cars from cyber-attacks

As happened to Tom Cruise in Minority Report, a car can be controlled from distance, only by accessing its on-board computer. Hackers have proven just that and raised the question: “Are smart cars safe or not?” As it is for computer or mobile devices, the solution in this matter means being secured against cyber-attacks.

The new technologies are supposed to make our life easier on the road. We now have features such as assisted driving and car diagnostics, which inform a driver if something has failed or when the vehicle needs to go in for repair. Newer models have even been upgraded with built-in WiFi to enable the car to communicate with the internet, get traffic information, relay performance statistics, and even enable an easy connection between the vehicle and the driver’s own devices. But sadly, this means that a car with these features is also vulnerable to security breaches.

The recent controlled hacking test performed on a Chrysler Jeep showed that it was completely possible for a “bad guy” to take total control over a car’s brakes, steering wheel, and acceleration. Technically we can say that the car wasn’t being driven by its driver, but by somebody else. And, it is impossible to say what the consequences could be in such a situation.

How to avoid attacks on smart cars

To keep anyone else from driving or playing with your smart car, keep in mind the following pointers:

1. Look it up. If your smart car has internet connectivity, ask the manufacturer about its safety. And, do a quick web search for yourself to see if there have been any issues that the dealer may have “forgotten.”

2. Keep updated. Updating your car’s software is not as easy as for a computer, but just as necessary. While most updates are done online, some may require your car to visit the dealer. Call the dealer every few months and see if an update is available.

3. Protect your car from your devices. When hooking up phones, laptops, or tablets to the vehicle’s WiFi network, you are potentially exposing the car to malware. Before connecting, make sure your devices are secured with an anti-virus software.

4. Shut the side doors. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) like our Avira Phantom when communicating with your devices via the car’s WiFi. This largely shuts down the risk of something piggybacking its way into the car via your online activity. Connecting to a VPN encrypts your connection, preventing hackers from finding and infiltrating your device.

5. Be careful on Bluetooth. Most security risks so far discovered have come via the internet, but Bluetooth may also be used as a gate for “intruders”. Disabling it when not in use might be a good idea.

Even after following all these caution measures, it’s impossible to say that your car will be 100% secure from cyber-attacks. And, this is quite frightening in the time when we are preparing for self-driven cars. Yeah, like the one Tom Cruise had in Minority Report.

Anyway, for now we still have the option of buying a traditional car and living with the satisfaction that we are in control of everything that happens behind the steering wheel. It’s always important to stay informed of the risks that will appear on the roads. After all, this article may save your life in the future.

Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.