Smart Cars: Three tips that users can use to protect themselves from cyber attacks

Smart watch

Connecting the smart car with wearables – those who do not protect themselves run a special risk. (Image: Luca Bravo /

The smarter cars become, the more vulnerable they are. With the keywords “smart cars” and “cyber-attacks”, many a driver might find a slightly crude science fiction horror spectacle on the inner cinema screen and practically run through the protagonistic car. However, it would be possible, because what if a hacker took control of the car in the middle of the highway or in the high mountains? What if the doors didn’t open anymore? Smart cars do pose real risks, so it is important to protect yourself. But how does it work?

Tip 1: Pay attention to security software when connecting

Basically, the car is just a computer. And as a rule, this applies to the fact that not all devices should be connected to it “simply”. Even at disk times, people knew that there were risks. Of course, floppy disks are not inserted into cars, but it is quite common to use one Connect Smart Car to a smartphone or tablet. This makes sense because of the musical entertainment, the route planning or even to get news. There is nothing wrong with this if:

  • Protection software – In principle, smartphones and tablets should be provided with virus protection software anyway, after all, the devices are increasingly performing online banking. In the end, however, this software also protects the smart car, because special viruses could disable or control the control of the vehicle.
  • Permissions – The permissions are also important. Which areas can the car access and which areas can the smartphone intervene in? For example, if you just connect the smartphone for music and route planning, you do not need to release any authorizations via the controller.

It is also important to keep the smart car on the network only as long as it is necessary. This is usually the case while driving. Connecting smartphone and tablet to the car, then turning off the car and maintaining a connection in the meantime is again a risk.

Tip 2: use a VPN

The use of a VPN makes sense on the go and is also advisable for smartphones and tablets. Mobile hotspots in particular are unsafe per se because access is virtually uncontrolled and data can be intercepted effortlessly. While virtual private networks, or VPN for short, used to be more of a solution for connoisseurs and nerds, today they are often already part of internet security or can be purchased easily for little money. But what is VPN and why is it so practical?

  • Obfuscation – From a sporting point of view, the VPN is like a half of a soccer field, in which the ball is played back and forth over umpteen stations until it finally reaches the opposing half. Only there are countless other users on the VPN field who do the same. It is therefore immensely difficult to impossible to determine from which point the ball, i.e. the data, was actually shot onto the free internet. Hackers cannot track data connections and tap them. At the same time, they have no chance of sending malware back to the recipient in this way.
  • Hits – The problem with smart cars is not that a hacker could gain control of the vehicle while driving. However, using the transmitted data, it would be possible to obtain the key code and to steal the parked vehicle. However, if no data is transmitted reliably and openly, this necessary information cannot be intercepted.
  • error – Many hackers or malware rely on minor errors or incidents that drive the operator of the PC or the car into insane madness. If a hacker can gain access without a VPN, he could, for example, constantly trigger the emergency software, constantly calling the fire brigade, police and rescue workers. Exactly this can end up expensive for the driver in the event of repeated incidents, because he has to pay for the “prank calls” at some point.

Regardless of the use in the car, it always makes sense to protect a smartphone or tablet via VPN. Incidentally, this also applies to the home network. But data can be accessed quickly on the go and no one wants the log-in data from PayPal or online banking to fall into the wrong hands.

Tip 3: Update security software

Modern cars are full of technology. And it is no longer a secret that these error rates are present. But the technology in delivered cars is only up to date until the car rolls off the yard. Since cars have long since become computers, it is also necessary to update their “operating system”. This is the only way to eliminate possible sources of error or simply to plug security gaps. But how does it work?

  • Workshop – As a rule, the software is updated via the workshop. This happens at least as part of the usual interval maintenance, but should also be carried out for repairs.
  • Manufacturer’s notification – Manufacturers also issue messages that can be equated with the recall. Affected vehicles should be taken to an authorized workshop, where they will now be supplied with the new update.
Cockpit of a smart car
Modern smart cars offer more and more functions. (Image: Mark Cruz /

The update is not possible on its own, and if it were, it would not be advisable. It may well be that an update requires changes to components that a layperson cannot do. Example distance sensors: If these need to be readjusted, a driver could drive against the lamppost because the sensor gave him the green light.

Conclusion – treat the car like a computer

The smarter and more connected cars become, the more they have to be treated like real computers. They offer areas of attack, but where the screen on the PC may go dark, the car could suddenly accelerate to 220 km / h without the driver being able to intervene. Therefore, caution should also be exercised when connecting to other devices. Only protected smartphones and tablets may be connected to the car, because laypeople in particular find it difficult to assess where and how malware spreads. At the same time, it is important to use a VPN and to have the security software updated regularly in the workshop. If a letter comes from the manufacturer, the following applies anyway: the next trip leads to the workshop.

May 27, 2020

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