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Is the hysteria around connected car hacking built on truth?

By Scott Frank, Vice President of Marketing, Airbiquity.

This article originally appeared on Embedded Computing Design.

After the recent 60 Minutes segment aired on national television regarding the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) work on privacy and as it relates to and the increasing number of connected devices, the media was buzzing about the connected car industry. Within hours of show, media outlets were developing outlandish opinions on if and how connected car technology could be hacked, leaving the general population a bit shocked, unnecessarily scared, and confused on the matter.

While there's definitely an element of media-driven hysteria at hand, this is to be expected given the very personal and fear-inducing example of a hacked car with compromised brakes driven by a well-known journalist instead of something much less personal and much more distant like a hacked computer deep inside the Pentagon.

Having said this, connected car security – and end-user privacy – is absolutely of paramount importance to the industry (it always has been), and protecting connected cars from malicious hacking will continue to evolve and improve over time given increased exposure to threats and development of mitigating technologies. The hysteria comes at a particularly unique time when more and more devices are connected to an IP address.

But we have to remember that connected cars are just one of an increasingly growing number of connected “things" in this increasingly connected world in which we live. Whether it's a smartphone, smartwatch, tablet, or car, the majority of the population is embracing this digitally oriented, connected era. With a quarter of a billion connected cars expected to be on the road by 2020, according to Gartner, cars as fully connected devices are just beginning to pick up speed. But with the inception of any new technology, the media jumps the gun to create noise – albeit false – because the new and the unknown are always easy targets. As the hysteria that mounted from the 60 Minutes segment showed, the connected car as the newest connected thing is just the media’s latest target. Airplanes could be next as demonstrated by a rather dubious hacking claim reported by CNN in mid-May.

The general population needs to look beyond the hype to see the facts. Ironically, only one successful car hack has been reported which was an inside job performed by a former (and angry) employee of a car dealership. Regardless, as hacking concerns have become top of mind to drivers, all manufacturers of connected products or services must do everything possible to mitigate hacking to ensure the value and safety of their offerings for their consumers. The same goes for all connected consumers who increasingly rely on the enhanced utility and convenience of our favorite connected things. And with any significant new technology, it’s likely that new standards and compliance regulations will be implemented to ensure the safety of all consumers.

Scott Frank is a vice president at Airbiquity. Previously, he worked at leading communications, publishing, and technology companies for more than 25 years. Scott has developed, deployed, and optimized integrated programs on a global, national, and regional scale throughout his career.