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What you don't know about your car's information security should scare you

A new survey on information security asks: How safe is your personal info in cars?

2020 Polestar 1
The advent of modern infotainment systems and connected car technology has been great for convenience, but it's also given hackers a new way to access your private data.
Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Information security is a massive concern for anyone who has data stored online or in an online-accessible device. That is to say, basically everyone. In the past, your trusty old car would be a great respite from the concerns of hackers and data privacy, but as cars get smarter and more connected to the world, that safe harbor is eroding. Making matters even worse is that your car may prove to be one of the more vulnerable access points for stealing your data.

Surely there are whole teams of government agents in dark rooms coming up with laws and regulations to protect hapless consumers from the perils of big data and the black hat hackers that seek to profit from it, right? Yeah, nah, bud. It's pretty much the Wild West out there.

If you're shocked right now, don't feel bad, you're not alone. I do this whole "knowing about cars" thing for a living, and I was shocked at how little I actually knew about data privacy. Thankfully, the folks from CarGurus have decided this is all scary enough to warrant further research. Their new study is a significant step toward protecting information where your vehicle is concerned.

First, I'd recommend taking the CarGurus survey on data privacy in your car. I did and holy hell, it was a sobering thing. Go on, take it. We'll wait for you.


OK, so how did you do? Terribly, right? Don't feel bad. According to the study, the average score among all participants was just 49%, while owners of connected cars did only slightly better at 53%.

So let's take a few minutes and figure out some best practices to help keep our data to ourselves and out of the hands of Mr. Robot (I don't know, I've never seen that show, but it sounds topical).

One of the most significant areas where people have misconceptions about data security in cars is in just how much responsibility a vehicle's manufacturer has to keep their customers informed. 

A full 65% of respondents to CarGurus' survey thought it was their vehicles' manufacturers responsibility to inform them of security updates. Spoiler alert: it's not. What can you do to help ensure that your car gets all the security updates it needs?

That's easy. Make a point of asking about it when your car goes in to your dealer for service and insist that the service department performs all available software updates while it's in their care. This is important because most cars aren't like your phone or your laptop that are capable of receiving updates pushed out to them over the air via the cloud. The bulk of vehicles being produced today still need to have a dealer-level tool plugged in to get the job done.

The second most important thing that you can do is to clear your data out of a vehicle that you're returning (as in the case of a rental or a lease) or selling. It's not the responsibility of the dealer or the next person buying or renting your vehicle to purge your information. This means you should be disconnecting all Bluetooth devices, clearing old navigation data, and clearing contacts and any other personal information if you shared them with your car.

Between these two steps, you should be in much better shape to keep your data private than the average geek off the street, and right now, that's just about the best you can do.

Now playing: Watch this: Personal Data in Your Car: Wipe it out.