By on May 27, 2016

Data, Image: rh2ox/Flickr

Your faithful four-wheeled companion — the one that costs you an arm and a leg but you still love it — has the data-gathering potential to make your life a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Researchers have found that a car’s computer network can identify a driver just by the way they operate the vehicle. Even something as simple as the brake pedal can pinpoint who’s behind the wheel, according to a report published in Wired.

A study crafted by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego will be presented at a tech symposium in Germany this July. In it, they analyzed data from vehicles driven by test subjects, probing their computer systems (known as the CAN bus) for clues.

Feedback from the brake pedal alone allowed the team to identify a specific driver out of a 15-person test pool with 90 percent accuracy. Checking other driver inputs over a longer period of time (90 minutes) brought that figure up to 100 percent.

“With very limited amounts of driving data we can enable very powerful and accurate inferences about the driver’s identity,” Miro Enev, a former University of Washington researcher, told the publication.

Forget about the government peering through your blinds at night, and never mind your cell phone or cable provider. Your car is keeping tabs on you.

Now that a vehicle can identify its driver, inevitable fears arise about that faithful companion ratting you out to the authorities. Changes in the way a driver pilots his or her vehicle can point to a medical condition, an impaired state, even the wrong person behind the wheel of a rental. For now, though, the evidence stays tucked away in the vehicle’s data bank.

That might not be the case for very long. Some insurance companies already allow drivers to offer up their car’s data in exchange for lower rates, while other drivers enjoy uploading their data to the cloud via devices that plug in to the CAN bus.

That data can then be seen by third parties.

If vehicles become able to upload their own data to the Internet, the privacy risk grows. How free are you willing to be with your car’s data?

Because of the risk, security measures should be built into any gadget designed to measure a single function, such a gas mileage, Enev said.

[Source: Wired (via Autofocus)] [Image: rh2ox/Flickr]

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25 Comments on “NSA in Your NSX: Your Car is a Data Breach Waiting to Happen...”

  • avatar

    As it is with every other Big Data revelation, in terms of how the last conceivable shred of individual, human privacy is being ground into tiny fragments & then sweeped into the ashbin of history, like dead letters, hundreds of millions of “nursed-on-technology-milk” voices will collectively scream “[s]o what? If you’re not *doing anything wrong,* you’ve got nothing to worry about!”

    Privacy Schmivacy!

    You/We/Us are all merely stamped commodities now, so offer up an arm or forehead for chip implantation so our habits, rituals, preferences, etc., can be methodically tracked, tested, logged in real time, and better algorithms served up on the altar of the state and KronyKapitalism can be formulated.

    • 0 avatar

      Given Apple’s position on privacy and encryption, this would help sell the AppleCar! But unfortunately, we know it can be hacked as well.

      More seriously, I, too, find it maddening when clueless people say “so what? If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about!” A psychiatrist friend works with some scary patients, and I know he’s very concerned about his privacy. A long time ago, a friend worked in the DA’s office and she got an unlisted number. How quaint! Anyone who has an ex might want not want to be stalked, so privacy matters here too.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, tired of the so what, if you are not doing anything wrong crowd. My arguments with them go something like (after they state sentence above), “but that’s the point I’m not doing anything wrong, you don’t need to track me, if I am doing something wrong, get a warrant.” No response from them, just a dazed look in their eyes, because I’m one of those privacy whack jobs.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem is that most people aren’t ‘doing anything wrong,’ so it’s hard to drum up anger in the populous. Most fail to grasp that the govt investigates and collects info many who aren’t ‘doing anything wrong,’ but just happen to hold different views than the people in power. The FBI COININTELPRO program is a perfect example.

        • 0 avatar

          In 1949 political ideology was a component of the 1st Geneva Convention. It was listed as something one could not be persecuted for just like race or religion. Many governments lobbied to have it removed. The irony of that fact is most say it was communist Russia that wanted it out but there were multiple so called democratic countries that also wanted it removed.

          • 0 avatar

            Not to be picky, but I think you meant to refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

            Still, I take your point.

    • 0 avatar

      Politicians tend to think they know better than the people who elected them. This arrogance leads them to pass laws that much of the electorate doesn’t support. In the past, it was possible to ignore such laws much of the time because enforcement wasn’t all that effective. The 55 mph national speed limit was an example. I got through it with only one speeding ticket despite ignoring it most of the time. (CB radio and Escort radar detector paid for themselves many times over.) With all of the electronic surveillance systems now available, I doubt this is possible any more.

  • avatar

    Going to be that guy from the B&B… There is nothing particularly Kafkaesque about this. Possibly Orwellian, but that’s probably too broad.

    On topic, I always imagine I have two general driving types. The slow, not-so-motivated drive to work and the more rapid commute home. I wonder how different those two trips really are.

    • 0 avatar

      “Going to be that guy from the B&B… There is nothing particularly Kafkaesque about this. Possibly Orwellian…”

      Whew! Well, that’s a relief!

      (But it WILL morph into Kafka AND Orwellian as utilized by the BigGov-BigDataCorp alliance, rest assured.)

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t expect your ‘different driving types’ to hide much. It’s a lot like textual analysis, the technique that outed ‘Robert Galbraith’ to be actually JK Rowling; Writing as a different author, in a very different style book, about a very different subject.

      • 0 avatar

        From now on, I will drive totally inconsistently hour by hour, and day by day, trail braking and then accelerating from stoplight to stoplight one day, and then only making left hand turns while never touching the brakes the next.

        They’ll never categorize or ID ME!!!

        • 0 avatar

          Me Neither. I got my eye on a ’88 Dodge Diplomat with none of that spy stuff. That 318 is kind of thirsty, but gas is cheap. I just hope I can snap it up before all those paranoids drive up the price.

      • 0 avatar

        @pragmatist – We have our own habits, traits, and personalities. This driving information shows that how we drive is a reflection of that fact.
        Will it be used by big government to spy on us?

        That would mean every vehicle on the planet would need to be monitored and the data analysed and stored.


        Tin foil hat territory here.

        This does have the benefit for a driver if he claims he was not driving when a serious car crash occurred or a vehicle he owned was used in illegal activity. It can prove or disprove who was driving.

        This just shows that one’s own driving modus operandi is tantamount to a fingerprint.

  • avatar
    Paco Cornholio

    This is the tip of the iceberg. Bluetooth + OnStar-like services are a terrible combination. Read the agreements you’re subject to when buying a new car.

  • avatar

    I heard the car also can tell if it is on an emission testbench and enable emission control for those 5 minutes of its life…

  • avatar

    A couple of comments….Sad to see that stories run on privacy issues such as this collect a very low number of comments. So it seems that many either are ok with this or have resigned to the fact that Big Data and Corporate America are snooping and they just don’t have fight in them. Too bad. Our founding fathers should be turning in their grave.

    Regarding the statement that the driver data can be used to identify drivers seems to be true for me. My work car has a Ward CanCeiver (we call it the CanSNITCH) and my driver profiles are very consistent.

    • 0 avatar

      “Our founding fathers should be turning in their grave.”

      Nay, they’d have embraced it as a miraculous guardian of freedom and property. They’d assiduously track everyone except free, white, property-owning males above a negotiated personal worth threshold.

      They’d have creamed their breeches at the very concept of such awesome inventory control.

  • avatar

    If it has a chip (well CPU, programmable chip, whatever) and you haven’t rooted it (probably illegal under the DMCA) and replaced it with GPL’d software*, it is violating your privacy, period.

    * techincally, android is “GPL’d software”. Make sure you rip the google specific (non GPL, must be included to be called “android”) if you are dealing with android and you want some privacy.
    ** no, I really don’t bother. But I might as well do jumping jacks naked in front of the windows (my neighbors will complain more than the NSA stuck spying on me).

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t complain if my neighbour’s wife did naked jumping jacks in front of the window. My wife might complain but not one peep out of me. LOL

    • 0 avatar

      The NSA doesn’t care about you. But the data grabbers for Corporate America surely do…anything to improve the efficiency that they separate you from your money.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think that kind of information would be useful for marketing, so corporate America wouldn’t be interested. But Insurance companies definitely would be very interested.

  • avatar

    Privacy folk MAY want to just drive a point ignitioned, carbureted, vehicle that won’t rely on a computer to operate. No CAN bus, no problem. Probably work just fine after an EMP blast happens, unless you’re at ground zero…

  • avatar

    Sorry but way too much is being read into this. The car’s computer just doesn’t store that much information on how it was operated for long periods of time.

    You’ll note that they achieved this result by monitoring and storing the data from the CAN bus on an external device, they did not retrieve data from the car’s computer after the fact.

    Also it isn’t something that will carry over from one vehicle to another as people will tend to drive different vehicles in different manners.

    For example I regularly drive my wife’s Hybrid, my Panther and my Econoline. How I brake (and drive in general) in each one is different with the hybrid I do try to maximize fuel economy by getting the engine to shut off and hopefully maximize regen braking while minimizing the use of the friction braking.

    The Econoline is usually hauling something in the back at least one of the directions and drive accordingly.

  • avatar

    This could be useful for the car. Cars now have many adaptive systems that adjust to the way you drive. Then someone else drives your car and the adaptive values start to change.

    If a car could store the values for a few regular drivers and keep the adaptive values tied to each driver, it could make the systems work better for you.

    I drive in two distinctly different modes. I drive one way when I have kids or customers in the car, totally differently if I am alone. If my car could realize the difference and automatically switch (instead of slowly adjusting), it would probably make my transmission last longer if nothing else.

    As for big brother knowing how I drive, I have no interest in my vehicle being connected to anything aside from my iPod.

    • 0 avatar

      @cbrworm – “As for big brother knowing how I drive, I have no interest in my vehicle being connected to anything aside from my iPod.”

      Agreed. It’s not so much tin-foli hat territory as it is just another piece of personal data out there for someone to connect the dots and then exploit.

      To make me even more concerned, I ran across this article in government technology:

      “Of the IT personnel surveyed, only 8 percent said cybersecurity was unimportant or very unimportant. But in human resources, that number was 39 percent; in purchasing and procurement that number was 41 percent; and in communications and public relations it was 48 percent. ”

      Are these people for real? Or was the survey done badly?

      Complete article here:

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