Apps for cars: problem or security solution?

Apps for cars: problem or security solution?


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  • Automotive and technology companies join forces to create applications that allow controlling the car from mobile phones.
  • They can be used to locate the car in case of theft and to drive elements of the vehicle without having to be inside.
  • Connectivity can also pose a security problem for cars, since it exposes them to being the target of computer attacks.

 The computer system of many vehicles can already be associated with the operating system of the driver’s mobile phone, either Android or iOS (CarPlay). EFE / ARCHIVE

The Internet of things is gradually being introduced into the most mundane objects of our lives. From TVs with Internet to the geolocation of any device, the elements of everyday life are increasingly connected, and cars are no exception. Some models that are on the market already have Wi-Fi incorporated (something very demanded), in addition to applications to facilitate its management and to be able to customize the configuration of its functionalities to the user’s liking.

Currently, many well-known applications can be synchronized in vehicles to be able to take advantage of them on the fly. From listening to music on Spotify to guiding the route with Google Maps, finding a place to park with Wazy Park, refueling at a service station located by Gasolineras de España or others, on the edge of the legal in some countries, that warn about mobile radars or police controls.



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Recently, Vodafone made public its acquisition of the company Cobra (now Vodafone Automotive) and the consequent absorption of its catalog of technological products for cars. Among them, elements of both software and hardware and designed not only for the final consumer , but for the manufacturers themselves, for companies with fleets of vehicles or for insurance companies. The connected car collects the big data , which allows a profile of the driver to serve both himself to know their habits and those who sell insurance: distance traveled, average speed, incidents or routes can mean savings in insurance for drivers with good behavior.

One of the great advantages of the devices and applications that are beginning to be commercialized (especially in high-end vehicles), as the company explains, is safety. Being able to locate a stolen car, allowing authorities to know where the car is in real time (information that is not provided to the owner to prevent him from going) and retrieving it before it disappears from the map is one of the novelties, beyond of uses in principle more trivial as access to email or weather forecasts from the car.

 Some vehicle brands are also starting to connect their cars to the most diverse utilities. From the BMW EnLighten application, which warns the driver when the traffic light goes green, to the Volvos that can be opened and closed with the mobile, many are the cars that no longer require external devices for certain applications to work in their inside. In fact, little by little it is more common that the computer system of vehicles can be associated with the operating system of the driver’s mobile phone, whether Android or iOS (CarPlay).

Exposed to an attack

The use of applications to control cars and their various functions can be a comfort, but also involves risk. According to a hacker consulted by (and who prefers to remain anonymous), any device connected to the network is “potentially vulnerable” to an attack. “It’s the same thing that happens with telephones: before, nobody could hack our old mobiles, and it was not good for anything either … Now, everyone has access to the bank from their mobile, credit card information, greedy information for a pirate “, says the computer scientist.

Although many of the applications that start to be commercialized by the car companies themselves are aimed at preventing car thefts or, at least, being able to find the vehicles when they occur, the simple fact of connecting them to the Internet puts them “in the disparagement “. The car could open from the outside, start and be available to anyone who could make a cyber attack but, according to the hacker, “is not easy at all.” “Connected cars are still not very common, so neither companies have security systems too sophisticated or the pirates have begun to study how to violate them, but soon the war will begin,” says the young computer scientist.


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Pirate a car

A couple of hackers wanted to check the vulnerability of a vehicle to a possible cyber attack, so they orchestrated themselves. An article in the technological magazine Wired tells the experiment in which they took control of a Jeep Cherokee in motion and, without any interference with the driver, they handled the fan, radio stations and other functions at will.

This attack to the computer system of the off-road, realized by Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, obtained that both were made by remote control with the handling of all the elements of the Jeep. The two hackers were at home, 10 miles from the vehicle , and only asked the driver to meet a requirement for the experiment: “Whatever happens, do not panic . ” Thus, the informatics told him to go to the highway, where they would take the reins.

Little by little, the hackers got that, no matter how hard the driver insisted on stepping on the accelerator, the speed of the car did not increase at all. The car decelerated progressively, which provoked the wrath of those who were driving behind and the despair of the driver, absolutely unable to control the vehicle.