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How drivers’ auto data is within reach of thieves, hackers

June 17th, 2024  |  Auto Insurance

Do you sync your phone to your car or store personal information in its computer systems?

If you do, it’s not out of the grasp of cybercriminals.

Today’s vehicles use sensors and connected technology to make driving easier and safer. Most are now outfitted with Bluetooth, key fobs and remote access, 360-degree cameras, media streaming and – in some cases – assisted driving. These same creature comforts may expose drivers to personal data breaches and increase the risk of car theft.

When a driver connects their phone to their car, they are involuntarily exposing their personal data to hackers. This leaves them vulnerable to cyber attacks, ransomware or extortion and identity theft.

“Could something like that happen on a vehicle?” asked insurance broker Steven Harris, adding the answer is yes.

“You could see situations where people’s vehicles, for all intents and purposes, are bricked and you can’t access them or operate them (unless) you pay that ransom to restore the functionality of your vehicles.”

A recent survey released by Munich Re’s HSB found 72 per cent of consumers sync their phones with their personal vehicles and another 60 per cent store personal information in their vehicle computer systems.

And some drivers use telematics devices that let insurers monitor their driving habits. They can either be plugged into a vehicle’s dashboard or downloaded as a smartphone app. Either way, this can also be a potential cyber security risk.

Upstream's 2024 Automotive Cyber Security Report, reveals the number and scale of cyber incidents has grown. The report found that, in 2023, cyber security incidents increased by 2.5 times those in 2022. And a growing number of them – 37% of all cybersecurity automotive incidents in 2023 – took the form of data breaches.

“We lose sight pretty easily of how much data can be stored in these vehicles now as they get more and more connected,” says Harris. “The concern is, could that information be compromised or potentially used against you in a way where cybersecurity insurance could come into play and provide protection?”

Many modern vehicles also use sensors and cameras that both survey the surroundings and track a driver’s habits. This information can tell hackers about a person’s neighbourhood and routines, potentially leaving them vulnerable to car theft. Thieves now routinely use signal jammers to hijack drivers’ key fobs and steal their cars.

According to statistics released this past January by the Government of Canada, car thefts rose by 50% in Ontario and Quebec from 2021 to 2022. In Toronto, 9,600 vehicles were stolen in 2022 alone, marking an increase of 300% from 2015. Western provinces also seeing a rise, albeit at a slower pace.

Multiple forms of keyless entry fashioned by hackers have recently been discovered, including a Bluetooth relay attack that remotely unlocked Tesla cars. In 2022, researchers at Montreal’s Concordia University found that the risk can be even greater for those who drive electric vehicles. They found countless instances when these drivers connected to popular charging stations, often through an app, only to be hit with countless security holes and malware infection.

While this is a fledgling risk, there’s not yet an insurance product in Canada designed to address auto cybersecurity. However, there are some U.S. examples. One is Munich Re’s HSB, which recently introduced cyber insurance for autos. It covers the owner of personal vehicles and protects against cyber-attacks, ransomware and identity theft as well as safeguards data stored in a vehicles and connected to apps.

With few Canadian products designed to protect against these risks, there are cyber precautions a driver can take including:

  • Be wary of information saved on phone apps or vehicles
  • Don’t save home and work address on Google Maps
  • Limit permissions on your phone
  • Keep your car’s software up to date
  • Review the privacy policies of apps you’re connected to
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi networks
  • Turn off Bluetooth when not in use
  • Protect your key fob at home in a metal can, layers of foil or in a metal wire cage called a faraday cage that prevents the fob from communicating with hackers.

Bottom line, the more technology advances in vehicles, the more cyber aware we’ll need to be.

“Cybersecurity has always been important,” says Kwasi Boakye-Boateng, a cybersecurity researcher at University of New Brunswick’s Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity. “If you have something that is connected to the internet, or has a means of connection like through Bluetooth, it’s at risk and it needs to be secured.”

With files from Canadian Underwriter, Lowest

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