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Connected car tech worries insurers

Web of deceit: Increasing connectivity to the net may be exposing drivers to risk of privacy violation and more distractions on the road.

Web services may increase driver distraction and compromised security says insurer

General News logo16 Feb 2015


AUSTRALIA'S major insurers say that the rise of web-connected and 'intelligent' transport systems could add to driver distractions as well as the potential of malicious attacks from hackers.

Leading Australian automotive insurer Zurich has warned that the increased use of wireless systems in vehicles could lead to increased risk of driver’s security and/or privacy being compromised through the interception of transmissions.

Equally worrying is the increasing level of driver distraction that will come with the web-connected vehicle says the company.

The insurer’s warning has coincided with the release of a report by a United States senator claiming that the increased connectivity of vehicles raises the possibility of a vehicle’s operation being disrupted by a hacker.

The findings by Senator Edward Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts) was based on a survey of 16 car-makers, asking them how they approached data security and privacy when designing web-connected on-board systems.

Senator Markey’s report noted that the industry used disparate approaches to security and that this was “for the most part … insufficient to ensure security and privacy for vehicle consumers,” it said.

“The responses from the automobile manufacturers show a vehicle fleet that has fully adopted wireless technologies like Bluetooth and even wireless Internet access, but has not addressed the real possibilities of hacker infiltration into vehicle systems,” Senator Markey said.

The report also details the widespread collection of driver and vehicle information, which is happening now, without privacy protection for how that information is shared and used.

The collection of vehicle data has already been given some attention by the Abbott Government which, in what is believed to be a world first, has asked the car-makers to investigate issues around vehicle-generated data.

Unlike the US, where the emphasis is on privacy, the Australian enquiry is looking more at who owns vehicle-generated data and who should have access to it.

Senator Markey said the carmakers had not done enough to protect consumers from the dangers of cyber-attacks.

“As we are more connected than ever in our cars and trucks, our technology systems and data security remain largely unprotected,” he said in the report Tracking and Hacking: Security and Privacy Gaps Put American drivers at Risk.

Zurich points out in its report that the increased reliance on computers in vehicles and the trend toward wireless communications in on-board systems not only raises issues around privacy and security, but also safety.

The company notes that the Centre for Automotive Embedded Systems Security has already demonstrated that external control of a vehicle can be obtained through its telematics systems.

However, an issue that is more likely to impede drivers is distraction caused by on-board systems, Zurich says.

“Auto-makers claim that new technologies reduce distractions and can even make driving safer by feeding drivers valuable information about the route, the immediate environment and the vehicle itself,” Zurich’s own US report says.

But the insurance industry heavyweight is still to be swayed “Others are not yet convinced,” it said.

The National Highway Safety and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already published guidelines for the car-makers on ways to limit the distraction risk posed by on-board electronic devices.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the University of Utah found that drivers who engage in multitasking while driving have a decrease in brain function and reaction time, accompanied by an increased crash risk.

The AAA has also come out strongly against the use of wearable devices while driving.

The association has recommended a ban on computer-powered glasses (eyewear incorporating an online screen), claiming that something that requires the pre-occupation of one of your eyes should never be used while driving.

Zurich says the increased penetration of the vehicle by web-connected devices poses a risk to fleet managers and insurers alike.

“‘The rate of change in automobile-based information, entertainment, communication and computer-enabled safety technologies means that exposures and risks are multiplying faster than the risks can be fully analysed and quantified,” Zurich says.

“Risk managers and underwriters will continue to be challenged to respond with creative solutions to this complex and constantly shifting risk landscape.”

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