News Column

Google car plan has security issues

June 25, 2014

John Shinal, @johnshinal, USA TODAY



Google's further push into automotive software has the potential to greatly increase ways drivers control and customize their cars.

Want a sporty sedan with front- and-rear-facing cameras and an in-dash screen you control with your voice?

It'll be here in a few model years, thanks to a boost from Google's new voice-activated car-operating system, called Android Auto.

With Apple unveiling its rival CarPlay platform earlier this month, and Google even further down the road, thanks to its years of automated car research, both leading mobile operating systems are encouraging software coders to create more in-car apps.

Yet, how fast Android apps proliferate in the cars of everyday Americans will depend on Google making its car system more secure than the apps for smartphone and tablet users have been on its online store, Google Play.

One of the best things about Google's Android system -- the fact that the interaction apps on it can share data -- also opens up one of its greatest security vulnerabilities.

The rich user experience that shared data can provide lets mobile users do a broad range of fun and useful things, and the company on Wednesday unveiled new features to facilitate app-linking on its platform.

But it also exposes Android apps to more malware and hacks than those for iOS, as Apple exercises stricter control over its application programming interfaces, or APIs.

As Google looks to extend its mobile ecosystem onto other devices -- such as glasses and wearables -- and into cars, the company is moving to tighten security.

The company also said at its developer event in San Francisco that it would start pushing out security updates from the Google Play store every six weeks.

That's a good way to assure users that critical Android apps -- for consumer finance or health, for example -- won't get hacked as often.

Suffering a privacy intrusion is bad enough, but experiencing some version of a future car hack could make for a lot worse day: "Hello, Triple-A? Someone just hacked my steering wheel!"

There's little doubt that tens of millions of future car owners will want the control and customization that a broad choice of future automotive apps likely will provide.

But how soon the majority of car buyers will be ready for automated vehicles will depend, in large part, on how safe they are to drive.




Jeff Chiu, AP


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Source: USA Today


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