• When you drive, does your GPS talk back with more attitude than normal?
  • Do you find your car going on late-night ice cream runs?
  • Has your car strangled you or your family? More than once?
  • Will your car refuse to perform rolling stops or turn right on red?

If you can say “yes” to any of these, then your car may be hacked. But don’t panic! It’s equally likely your car has just been possessed by a hungry ghost.

We are all acclimated to the security risks on our computers and phones; you update often, avoid sketchy websites, and don’t download questionable software. However, the king of the open road has never dealt with these challenges. Our cars were a sanctuary. The only risk was of being involved in one of 10.8 million accidents per year. But hacking? Leave that to the computers!

Today, your car is a computer as well. In fact, it’s more computer than your computer. Besides the OBD2 service plug under your dashboard, it is a veritable treasure trove of calculating machines. Anti-lock brakes, stability control, airbags, roll compensation, variable headlights, lane guidance, and more all run computations hundreds of times per second. Not to mention the entertainment systems which are more tightly integrated into car operations each year.

News stories describing vehicle hacking sensationalize the event, making it difficult to know whether the problem uncovered is a true risk. Perhaps, then, we cannot blame people for being afraid of their next car being the victim of hackers. A recent survey conducted by Kelley Blue Book put numbers to the suspicions. Of note, nearly half (41%) would consider vehicle security provisions during their next purchase. Over half (58%) felt a permanent solution to the problem will never be found.

That group is correct. If computer code is more complex than “Hello, world!”, it has bugs. Just as your body has a variety of protections against sickness, from skin to an immune system, sometimes both our bodies’ and our computers’ code gets “colds”. The concern is in severity. A small rash might be an inconvenience, but the flu can put you out of commission for days. Same too with the computer. If the bug is serious enough, and a hacker (like a virus) can infect deeply into the system, then the system can be taken over.

The key to ensuring car hacking does not become a safety issue is in the ability to get fixes to the vehicles. Tesla designed their Model S (and all future vehicles) with a wireless update capability, much like your phone. When it’s plugged in and charging, it checks for updates, which can fix security and stability bugs, as well as add new features. Your next drive is then more secure. The Jeep Cherokee you heard was hacked (luckily by good guys) has no such feature, and must either be driven to a dealership or manually updated with a USB drive.

Luckily for Chrysler, people don’t yet see their cars as they do their phones. From a technical standpoint, they’re the same; Internet-connected devices that you depend upon to just work. In the aforementioned survey, 64% would elect to drive to a dealership for a security update to be installed. Would you drive to the Apple Store, wait in line, then wander around the mall for an hour while the latest update is set up on your phone? Of course not. You’d demand better. It’s only a matter of time until this migrates to cars.

Your credit union (you didn’t think I’d get to you, but I did!) has strong security features in place. Your members’ personal and financial information must never fall into the wrong hands, or any other hands, for that matter. But vulnerabilities exist and there are always those looking to exploit for their own ends. Does your IT team ensure both technical problems and human error cannot compromise your core LOS? What about your members? If your last security notice to them was a red bar on your website, they didn’t understand. In the same way you provide financial literacy education, help your members keep a safer digital life. Share the procedures in place at your own branches…does anyone use “password” as their password?

In today’s always-connected society, you are likely the most security-conscious entity your members directly encounter in their daily life. Help them be as great as you at conducting safe online practices. Consider yourself the wireless updates for your members’ security features.

But watch out for that moody GPS. Your delightful British accent isn’t fooling anyone!

Update: Another report has surfaced that the OBD2 port mentioned above connects to an inherently insecure platform, the CAN bus. It’s ok, it’s only on every car made in the last 20 years. However, devices that give the port wireless capabilities, like OnStar or insurance monitoring attachments, put your vehicle more at risk. Me? I’m keeping that port empty, especially given all the self-driving systems on my car. 

Image credit: http://blogthinkbig.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/hackers-new-cars1-620×413.jpg