Your Car's Previous Owner May Still Be Able To Track And Unlock Your Car

Technology / 2 Comments

The downside of connected vehicles is that automakers haven't worked out all the kinks yet.

Automakers still haven't quite found out how to meld technology and cars together in a user friendly manner. Just look at how awkward some infotainment systems are for proof of that. However as the technology gets more sophisticated and complex, it raises questions about safety and privacy. Already there is proof that cars can be hacked and manipulated while drivers are inside, and as Car and Driver has just reported, apps that connect vehicle functions to smartphones may have issues of their own.

That discovery was made when speaking to Charles Henderson, a cybersecurity researcher at IBM and the previous owner of a convertible of an undisclosed make and model. The topless car Henderson purchased was one of the early examples that could be linked to an app that tracks the vehicle and can unlock it or even start the engine with a few twiddles of the thumbs. And then parenthood came, forcing Henderson to sell his convertible for a kid-friendly vehicle. After selling back the convertible, returning all the keys and having the dealership reset the car's computers, he registered his new car (of the same make) on the app to take advantage of the same features.

However, Henderson found that he still had access to his old car. Now, four years after selling it, he still has access to his previous car, giving him too far a reach into its new owner's life. After going to the dealership to have the problem sorted, curiosity led Henderson to try the same trick with four cars of separate models. He then found them all vulnerable, raising the question, is the car in your garage still accessible by the previous owner? Maybe, but maybe not. It all depends on the automaker since difference manufacturers develop these apps and offer their associated programs differently. For example, subscription-based services are likely to forbid access once you take cars off the plan and stop paying for the service.

Other companies make removing access easy – GM asks that owners press the blue OnStar button and ask for app privileges to be revoked for example. This still leaves a fairly large gap as many owners may not even know that they need to undergo the process. Until automakers find a way to address this issue with well thought out connected cars, used car buyers should take caution and ensure that no previous owner has access to a potential purchase before buying it.

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