Return of the Guru

Automakers, Electronics Firms Tout Connectivity, But Ignore Security and Safety

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, March 23, 2011

Anyone who has been around technology for any length of time can point to at least one instance of the tech industry rushing headlong into product development without paying attention to factors that might restrain that momentum. In my last posting, I talked about the dangers of in-car cellular technologies and the problems they will pose for insurers.

Hot on the tail of that story comes another about 11 companies in the consumer electronics and automotive industries banding together to form a consortium to develop smartphone-to-vehicle connectivity standards, including a standard enabling control of smartphone functions from a vehicle's controls. According to the story in TWICE: This Week in Consumer Electronics, The Car Connectivity Consortium includes vehicle manufacturers Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor Co., Toyota and Volkswagen; automotive-system suppliers Alpine and Panasonic; and consumer electronics suppliers LG Electronics, Nokia and Samsung.

The group's first priority, the article notes, is to further develop the Terminal Mode standard unveiled by Nokia early last year to let drivers access mobile phone applications via a vehicle's in-dash controls, touchscreens and steering-wheel-mounted controls while viewing the apps on the vehicle's LCD screen. Terminal Mode is built on such existing standards as IP, USB and Bluetooth, and it would enable plug-and-play device connectivity across various brands of devices in multiple vehicle brands.

As I pointed out in my last blog, however, scientists have already demonstrated that a vehicle’s wireless/Bluetooth capabilities can be hacked and used to steal the vehicle, to spy on its occupants or to perpetrate vandalism—obviously a concern for auto insurers. It would seem that the consortium, by establishing a standard that will allow such connectivity across device and vehicle brands, is making it even easier for the bad guys to do bad things with our technology.

With access becoming easier and more widespread, our vehicles are fast becoming yet another weak link in the physical security chain (car theft) and the data security chain (hacking for criminal purposes). And all of this is on top of the fact that more in-vehicle devices and screens will mean more driver distraction and undoubtedly more accidents.

Of course, I’m sure weakening the security profile of consumers’ vehicles is not what the consortium has in mind, but unless that consortium also can offer significant security safeguards, that is just what they will accomplish. Consortium companies seem more focused on providing something new and cool, rather than offering up a standard that is new, cool and secure. As I said, this is not unusual in the technology field. Just look at the way most software is developed—sell the product now; deal with the glitches and problems later.

Unfortunately, insurance companies often end up paying for losses associated with the initial problems spawned by technology. The consortium needs to be a little less promotional and a lot more responsible in making sure that its new standard not only doesn’t enable problems, but actually prevents them.

Bad security in wireless technologies is the 800-pound gorilla in the room for many of the new products and services we see today, yet very little is done to fix this problem. With this consortium effort, I’m afraid we’ll only see that gorilla growing so large that we will not be able to contain it.

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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