car's memory
Your car remembers your routine
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What is helping to save us time as we multi-task our way through the day, could actually be a playground for cyber criminals or those who want to access your personal information

AS new ‘connected’ technology arrives, linking data in your car with that on your smartphone, comes a warning that you need to clean your car’s memory to ensure sensitive data is wiped from the vehicle before you pass it on. Alphabet’s John Chuhan explains:

The web-enabled world we live in today means we are constantly connected, whether we like it or not, even while travelling.

Connected cars are a big focus for UK industry and society at the moment, as well as increasingly popular with the public.

car's memory
John Chuhan – ‘risk alert’

This year the Government has invested £20m in funding research into communications between connected vehicles and the world around them – so called ‘talking car technologies’ – as part of part of a £100m Intelligent Mobility Fund.

While the ambition of these projects is to cut costs, time, congestion and emissions, have you considered that intelligent mobility could also be reducing the level of security of our personal data and private information?

The pace of modern life means we have rightly or wrongly come to expect our connected devices to support us at home and work, at the click of a button or even through voice control.

When you think about this in a car, such technology could be planning a journey to a business meeting and return home again with in-built navigation, taking a call via Bluetooth, streaming music or accessing the internet and email through Infotainment systems. We rely on data such as phone numbers and addresses being instantly available on demand.

Mobility on demand

  • The new BMW Connected app can be applied to 400,000 BMWs already on UK roads – read more here

However, what is helping to save us time as we multi-task our way through the day, could actually be a playground for cyber criminals or those who want to access your personal information.

In an economy where car finance and leasing is often preferred to outright ownership, many of us are now familiar with handing our cars back at the end of its contract or lease; or even returning a rental car.

What most people aren’t aware of is that the data stored in our cars remains in the vehicle’s memory long after it is handed back, or that it is still accessible even when the car is switched off.

Increasingly some of us are now sharing our vehicles with others within our company or organisation.

But what most people aren’t aware of is that the data stored in our cars remains in the vehicle’s memory long after it is handed back, or that it is still accessible even when the car is switched off.

This could make both the driver and business vulnerable, with popular travel routes, home addresses, recent phone numbers, messages and emails all at risk of falling into the wrong hands. So greater awareness of how to ‘clean’ a vehicle of personal or confidential information is paramount.

Connected-cars are vulnerable to someone with the right know-how, software and access to the diagnostics port in the vehicle where sensitive information is stored.

But its not all bad news, more connected vehicles offer drivers and businesses huge advantages; some even now ‘call home’ to their manufacturer with details of a maintenance requirement or to enable a leasing company to contact the driver to book a service.

We need to start treating our cars as we do our laptops and smartphones when it comes to security. You wouldn’t replace either without clearing out all of your personal information first; an attitude that we need to absolutely replicate with our modern vehicles and clear our car’s memory.

Protecting your in-car data privacy is a simple matter of knowing how to clear personal data from a vehicle, especially when returning it to a leasing or rental company, as well as handing it over to a new owner.

Clearing destinations and trip logs from an in-built satnav is key, as is removing sensitive stored locations such as home or business addresses.

Deleting call logs, phone books and addresses is a good place to start, as wireless connections store a lot of information generated by ‘paired phones’.

Clearing destinations and trip logs from an in-built satnav is key, as is removing sensitive stored locations such as home or business addresses.

Uncoupling from the cloud will also shut down any links to social media networks and search engines previously accessed through the vehicles’ Wi-Fi.

While you’re taking care of your digital identity, don’t forget that printed documents with your name and address on them can be useful to thieves. Check the glove box and door pockets for old paperwork you wouldn’t want to end up in the wrong hands.

The key is to safeguard your on-board personal data as much as possible against malicious intent. This is a vital concern for vehicle manufacturers who are constantly seeking ways to increase connectivity in line with consumer demand, while ensuring the systems are robust enough to reduce hack-ability both now and in the future.

With connected, autonomous vehicles on the horizon and all the implications that come with them, this concern is not being taken lightly.

The responsibility to reduce risk lies with both users and manufacturers to take precautions as much as possible.

You can never eliminate risk from life, but you can take practical steps to reduce it. Investing a small amount of time considering and clearing your in-car data and connected systems will minimise the risk of your data being accessed without your knowledge and ensure the new driver or owner of the vehicle starts with a ‘clean slate’.

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