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Why buying a second-hand car could actually be a security risk

Why buying a second-hand car could actually be a security risk

When purchasing a second-hand car, you’re probably thrilled by making some sweet savings and aren’t thinking about anything more sinister.

However, thanks to increasingly smart cars, buying a used car could pose a security risk. IBM researcher Charles Henderson realised this when he sold his car a few years ago, yet to this day he still knows where it is and can control it from his phone. Pretty scary stuff, as it raises a huge privacy issue.

“The car is really smart but it’s not smart enough to know who its owner is, so it’s not smart enough to know it’s been resold,” Henderson told CNNTech. “There’s nothing on the dashboard that tells you ‘the following people have access to the car’.”

Cars
(Brennan Linsley/AP)

As most major car manufacturers allow you to control your car remotely, it’s a huge problem that few people are thinking about. According to Henderson, the only way to prevent this is by going to a factory-authorised dealership and revoking app access from the previous owner. Apparently, a full factory reset of the car doesn’t block the previous owner – while it resets the car, the data is still in the cloud for others to access.

Our increasingly connected world is throwing up a host of problems similar to this. More and more homes are connected and the smart devices in them might retain the original owner’s data even when it’s sold.

For sale signs
(Yui Mok/PA)

Henderson told CNN his top tips for staying safe when buying smart devices second-hand. He says that you should check who can access data through the user management settings or ask a home inspector to check this if you are buying a house. He also advises car dealerships to show you how the mobile apps work so you can see that no previous owners are still on the app.

However, these aren’t failsafe: Henderson says that people who aren’t particularly wised up to technology should consider buying new instead.

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