Keeping your data safe on your car's infotainment system

When you’re shopping for a car, you want it to have all of the bells and whistles, such as hands-free connectivity, Apple CarPlay and in-car Wi-Fi. These features, known as infotainment, make our lives easier and our driving experiences safer — but when we connect our phones, we open ourselves up to a host of privacy issues. 

The Michigan Cyber Command Center (MCCC) recently released a Cyber Security Snapshot (PDF) warning against this type of personal information theft. 

“Using a car’s infotainment system is not only convenient, but sometimes required for hands-free driving laws. The tradeoff for that convenience often requires syncing data such as contact information from your phone to the car,” said Garrett McManaway, chief information security officer for computing and information technology at Wayne State University. “The easiest way to protect your privacy is to avoid using these features altogether, but given todays connected world, that is rarely possible. Taking a few minutes before returning any rented car to delete your data is the next best thing. It is the modern equivalent of remembering to eject your favorite disc from the CD player.”

Pairing your device

In their report, the MCCC says the biggest issue is pairing your device to your vehicle and forgetting to delete the connection once you sell or return the car. This is especially important in the downtown and campus areas, where there are many companies that allow you to temporarily rent a car. Forgetting to delete this information can give the next person using the car access to your text messages, location history — including home or work addresses — and other personal information. Theft of this information can make you susceptible to scams and identity fraud. 

Do you trust your mechanic?

Another security concern highlighted by MCC is the vulnerability of electronic information when cars are taken to be repaired. The information in these auto infotainment systems can be accessed without any sign of being viewed. When getting your car repaired, always take it to a mechanic you trust.

The easiest way to keep your data safe is to always delete the connections in shared or borrowed cars. If you’re getting ready to sell your own car, make sure you remove any pairings to the car’s infotainment system. 

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