Keeping your privacy in a digital world - WNEM TV 5

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Keeping your privacy in a digital world

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ANN ARBOR, MI (WNEM) -

In the digital world our phones, computers and now even our cars could be putting our data at risk.

New technology is basically turning our vehicles into a traveling computer and that's raising new concerns about privacy.

Every time you start your car, you're leaving behind a trail of information. Your car's computer saves everything from the calls you make via blue tooth to the speeds you drive. Even the history of where you stop. Would you want a stranger getting their hands on this stuff?

Ray Massenberg is automotive coordinator at AAA Michigan. He's alarmed about the privacy and security risks to motorists. He says identity thieves could hack into your vehicle and steal details of your life. If you're skeptical, listen to this.

"That kind of information would be a concern to anybody if they didn't know that it was being collected and being shared with someone else, says Massenberg. "There's already been demonstrations that it can be done. That remotely, people with the correct technology and with the correct software can remotely communicate with your vehicle and destroy data. Even manipulate what the vehicle does."

These days, your car often stores cell phone data, navigation data, crash data. Massenberg says protecting that kind of personal information is a real issue we all need to worry about.

Right now, all of it is between you and your car maker. But AAA Michigan has a growing concern that a person up to no good, perhaps even an auto mechanic, could tap into that data pipeline. They're trying to get the word out to anyone who has a set of wheels. Their message, find out how secure your car really is.

"Our main thing is education. Were in a phase where we want to make sure the public and our members stay well informed of this technology," says Massenberg.

AAA Michigan offers these tips to protect you and your info.

  • Familiarize yourself with the wireless systems in your car. Review the owner's manual. Find out which systems, if any, can be accessed remotely presumably by a hacker.
  • Find out if your vehicle has a shutdown feature.
  • When you get your ride serviced, go to a shop you trust not a stranger.
  • Protect all your passwords to features like Bluetooth and keyless entry.
  • Beware of aftermarket devices. Some require access to the vehicle communications network to function. That could pose a higher security risk.

Scientists at University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute agree, saying technology in vehicles is only as good as the privacy that comes with it.

Andre Weimerskirch is a scientist specializing in cyber-security and privacy. He believes car manufacturers need to focus more on protecting confidential consumer information.

"I think that's a very important point to understand that the majority of the security design is targeting protection of privacy of the end user," says Weimerskirch. "Security is an afterthought. You know like you design all your nice features and what ever attracts customers. And then on top you set security and often it does not work out."

So how do you correct that? Weimerskirch has an idea.

"Make sure that in every step of the production and also the supply chain security is considered. And I think that will change the situation a lot," says Weimerskirch.

But for now, Massenberg remains concerned. Saying there are privacy issues we don't even know about yet. That's because new features in vehicles are getting more complex with every passing year.

"They haven't been fully developed. They haven't been fully tested. And until that happens we're just kind of in a holding pattern on that," says Massenberg.

AAA Michigan is now asking lawmakers to ensure more privacy for car owners, but they say it's a tough task because the technology continues to evolve.

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