FTC Warns Travelers About Cybersecurity Risks Of Rental Cars

The Federal Trade Commission has recommendations for consumers to protect their personal data when driving rental vehicles.

Driving a rental car this summer? Your personal information may be at risk, warns the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC yesterday released an alert warning car rental customers to safeguard their personal data when using vehicles that include network connectivity. Drivers may be unknowingly making their data vulnerable, as cars continue to store information after they are returned.

Many connected cars are equipped with infotainment systems that work with a driver’s personal devices so he or she can navigate, stream music, and use hands-free calling and texting from behind the wheel.

These systems can store data like previously entered GPS locations, which could include a driver’s home or work address. They may also keep mobile phone numbers, contacts, call logs, or text messages.

The FTC shed some light on precautions rental car customers can take to ensure the safety of their information when driving connected cars.

  • Drivers should avoid connecting their phones or electronic devices to an infotainment system for the sole purpose of charging. If your phone is low on battery, it’s better to use a cigarette lighter adapter to charge instead of the USB port, which may automatically transfer and store data.
  • If you do connect a device to the infotainment system, it may display a screen to ask which types of information you want the system to know. In this case, be sure to only grant access to necessary information; for example, don’t share your contacts if you only want the system to play music.
  • Finally, delete all personal data from the infotainment system before returning the vehicle. Within the system’s settings, you should be able to locate a list of devices connected with the system and follow instructions to delete data. If the process proves tricky, the car’s manual or rental company should be able to give more information.
  • If drivers don’t delete this data before the car is returned, they risk the possibility of sharing it with future renters, rental car employees, or cybercriminals.

As part of its rental car alert, the FTC encouraged rental car customers to heed security advice from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), which published a security tip on the vulnerability of all electronic devices to cyberattacks.

The US-CERT’s advice may seem like common sense to security pros, but it’s worth remembering as more connected devices make their way into everyday life. Some of its tips include keeping device software up to date, encrypting files when storing personal and corporate information, disabling remote connectivity, and using caution with public wifi networks.

Car hacking has been in the spotlight for a while and researchers are working to build tools for discovering vulnerabilities in vehicles. In June 2016, French researchers announced plans to release CANSPY, a tool for testing weaknesses in a car’s local communications network.

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Kelly is an associate editor for InformationWeek. She most recently reported on financial tech for Insurance & Technology, before which she was a staff writer for InformationWeek and InformationWeek Education. When she’s not catching up on the latest in tech, Kelly enjoys … View Full Bio

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