Survey exposes consumer fears about car hacking

In the wake of two high-profile car hacking reports, a new Kelley Blue Book survey suggests consumers are increasingly concerned about automotive cybersecurity, and those concerns could influence new purchases.

Chris Paukert Former executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015. Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Chris Paukert
3 min read

The hack of a Jeep Cherokee's UConnect infotainment system led to the recall of 1.4 million vehicles. Jeep

Recent high-profile hacks have heightened awareness about the vulnerability of cars to electronic attacks, and there is real concern about vehicle cybersecurity, according to Kelley Blue Book's new Vehicle Hacking Vulnerability Survey.

The study's results show that 71 percent of respondents are aware of the Jeep Cherokee hacking revealed last month by Wired, an incident that triggered the recall of over 1.4 million cars and trucks. The study also notes that more than three-quarters of respondents believe vehicle hacking will become a frequent problem within the next three years. The wide-ranging survey also investigated who consumers blame for these potential security issues, as well as how consumers would like these cyber-vulnerabilities handled.

The variety of responses suggests that while there is growing anxiety about vehicle hacking and there isn't yet a clear roadmap for how to deal with such threats, it's possible that cybersecurity will have an impact on new vehicle purchasing decisions in the near term and customer satisfaction in the long term.

From the survey, which was conducted from July 24 to 27 and had 1,134 respondents:

  • 41 percent say that they'll keep these recent hacking incidents in mind when shopping for their next vehicle.
  • 33 percent classified car cyber attacks as a "serious" problem, 35 percent labeled them as a "moderate" problem.
  • Of the reasons most commonly cited for hacking, 41 percent cited pranking, while 37 percent cited theft.
  • 58 percent of respondents don't believe a permanent solution to vehicle hacking will ever be found.

Unsurprisingly, there's a strong correlation between companies recently in the news for security flaws and consumers' sense for the vulnerability of these manufacturers' products. Seventy percent of respondents believe vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (Jeep's parent company) are "most susceptible to hacking," with General Motors coming in second with 47 percent. (GM suffered its own high-profile attack last week). No other automaker ranked higher than 30 percent.

According to Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst, "Consumers also are highly skeptical that a comprehensive solution to prevent vehicle hacking can ever be developed, though an overwhelming majority would be willing to pay for hack-proof vehicle security if it existed."

When a security vulnerability is exposed in a vehicle, survey respondents have clearer ideas of how they'd like to address the problem. Sixty-four percent say they would elect to go to a dealership for a security patch installation, with 24 percent preferring to do so wirelessly. Just 12 percent would like to receive a patch via mail and update the software themselves.

Interestingly, fewer than half the respondents said they'd seek out their dealership "immediately" upon learning of a security patch for their vehicle, with a third saying they'd go "within a week."

While there have been no reported injuries or fatalities attributed to automotive hacking to date, with the connected car movement picking up steam and vehicle systems increasingly dependent on electronic control, it's clear that immunizing vehicles from cyberthreats is becoming a top priority for automakers, consumers and legislators. The next 12 months will likely spell out a great deal as the auto industry and Capitol Hill work to secure the automotive future.