Cars are smarter than ever. Many can now let you do everything from dictating text messages to helping you find available parking spaces as you approach an unfamiliar city. There’s a potential downside to all this technology that you might not have considered. As soon as you use the sat-nav or Bluetooth or link your smartphone to your car, you’re automatically sharing a lot of information with it. And that information could be open to abuse or theft. Many new cars are also connected which means they’re fitted with technology that uses the internet to allow you to access a wide range of information and control functions from your smartphone. There are already more than two million connected cars in the UK, and research by statistic suggests this number will increase fivefold to almost 8.6 million by next year.

Owners of these cars can use a smartphone app to do anything from unlocking the doors to controlling the heating and booking the car for a service. The cars might also connect to a concierge service so that you can ask for directions to the nearest restaurant or parking area. While these are great for convenience, the consequences could be serious if criminals hack into them. Business users also need to be conscious of the danger of cyber criminals being able to hear what’s happening inside their cars by hacking into the microphones in their cars. The electronic systems in modern cars also collect and store data, both from your smartphone and about your driving habits.

For example, if you want to call someone in your phone’s contacts list, this data is usually downloaded onto the car’s system. To save you the hassle of inputting your home address into the sat-nav in order to check for delays on the way home, some cars can also collect data about your regular journeys and tell you the expected travel time as soon as you get in. If cyber criminals gain access to this personal data, they could sell it or use it to blackmail you. They could even use ransomware to lock you out of your car or prevent it from being driven until a sum has been paid. Modern cars have a significant number of vital components that are controlled by software and linked to an on board computer network. The software in cars was confined to small areas just a decade ago, but the latest models now have millions of lines of code in them. In fact, almost every major component, from the engine to the steering and brakes, is now controlled by electronic technology.

The government is already working with car industry leaders to develop guidance to protect self-driving cars. It published a cyber security standard last December that it said should help to improve the resilience and readiness of the industry.

What you can do to deter cyber criminals IS I

  • Keep in touch with your car’s manufacturer regularly to check whether it has issued software updates or recalls to improve security.
  • To minimise the impact if your car and/or sat-nav is stolen, use any security features your sat-nav offers and think about regularly wiping all the data, such as your home address, from the system. 
  • If your car has built-in wi-fi, never leave the default password on it and never leave a note of the new password inside the car. 
  • Turn your car’s wi-fi and Bluetooth off when you’re not using them. 
  • If you download any smartphone apps that will be processing payments for your car, such as road toll fees, make sure they’re password-protected. 
  • Make sure your smartphone’s operating system and apps are the latest versions; updates are often issued to patch possible security vulnerabilities that can give cyber criminals access to your phone. 
  • Protect your social media accounts by making sure you’ve activated the privacy settings. With Facebook, avoid public updates and only send posts to your friends. With Twitter, you can’t be as selective. 
  • Protect your home by making your car’s sat-nav less accurate. If you don’t want cyber criminals to know where you live, instead of setting your home address to your house, consider setting the shortcut to a nearby junction or the closest motorway exit.