Ford Upgrades SYNC To Keep Virtual Bad Guys Out Of Your Car

March 9, 2010
MyFord Touch

MyFord Touch

MyFord Touch

MyFord Touch

2011 Ford Edge

2011 Ford Edge

2011 Ford Edge

2011 Ford Edge

The internet is a pretty magnificent thing. It allows us to stay in touch with family and friends. It helps small companies to do business around the globe. And of course, it brought you here. But as the web grows, consuming every square inch of our daily lives, it brings numerous threats -- namely, hacking and identity theft. A handful of upgrades to the SYNC telematics system aim to minimize those threats by putting some distance between Ford owners and the baddies.

SYNC's upgrades come as a suite of add-ons like firewalls and password controls, which will launch during the 2011 model-year on models like the 2011 Ford Edge. For example, Ford's new MyFord Touch teams with SYNC to create a wi-fi network in the car. New upgrades to SYNC will create a default firewall for the network, keeping nearby nosey-parkers from seeing and accessing that network.

Other notable additions include locking pre-programmed destinations behind a four-digit PIN. So, for example, if someone were to swipe your keys and nab your car, they wouldn't be able to access you list of favorite places -- like, say, your home address. Which is good, since the crook in question would likely have your home keys, too.

But the upgrades aren't all good news. Case in point: SYNC's "encrypted jukebox", which uses digital-rights management (DRM) software to lock down the music you play in your car. DRM is almost always a terrible idea. Companies say it's designed to protect your content, to keep others from stealing your collection of music, but honestly, having someone download our entire music collection onto an iPod is the least of our worries in a break-in. In fact, DRM is really designed to make customers dependent on a particular line of products. Apple tried this approach for years on iTunes, but finally backed down when it became apparent that people who had paid good money for music wanted to be able to play that music anywhere they liked -- even on devices that weren't iPods.

Ford's system is almost identical to Apple's old one for the iPod and iTunes. As the company says in its press release: "The Ford proprietary encryptions protect any songs saved to the system's digital jukebox – which can hold up to 2,400 tracks – from being moved or copied to another device." In other words, any music you download using SYNC is stuck in your car. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Not to mention insidious and offensive.

In all, we're excited by these upgrades to SYNC. As Ford notes in the release below, 11,000,000 Americans fell prey to identity theft last year -- and ominously, roughly one-third of of those instances happened by thieves on the go, using mobile phones. Given that sort of portability, protecting in-car wi-fi networks is more important than ever. But please, please, Ford: back off the DRM. You're doing so well these days. Don't make us hate you.

* * * * *


DEARBORN, Mich., March 8, 2010 – With the rapid convergence of in-car technology and the Internet, Ford Motor Company said today it is offering a suite of security features to protect the personal information of millions of Ford owners from the threat of computer hackers and viruses.

Protecting customers is critical as Ford moves to the forefront of in-car personal technology. Ford's popular SYNC system allows owners to connect digital media players and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones to their vehicle's entertainment system and operate them with voice commands. The mobile phone also is a gateway to a number of Internet "cloud" services through SYNC's Traffic, Directions and Information application that provides turn-by-turn directions, business searches and more.

As a result, Ford is adapting methods and technologies most often associated with the fast-paced IT world to secure its mobile device-to-car connections from unwanted entry. Think firewalls, virus protection and password-controlled access.

"Ford Motor Company delivers highly advanced technology and entertainment platforms that, just like a consumer's laptop or smart phone, need to have security features built into it," said Jim Buczkowski, director, Ford Electronics and Electrical Systems Engineering. "Consumers want and need to know that their personal or professional information in their vehicle is specific only to them."

Recent industry data shows that more than 11 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity theft and fraudulent accounts in 2009 – with nearly a third of fraudulent accounts opened via mobile phone technology. As the use of smartphones escalates – with 174 million shipped globally in 2009 alone – concern over identity and information theft continues to rise.

To give customer peace of mind that their private information is protected, concealed and secure while in the vehicle, Ford is offering the following security features:

  • SYNC Firewall: With the launch of MyFord Touch for the 2011 model year, Ford is adding WiFi "hot spot" broadcasting through SYNC using a USB-connected broadband modem. To prevent unauthorized access and combat piggybackers, Ford has built in firewalls to both the wireless network and the vehicle. Using the SYNC WiFi system, a signal will be broadcast throughout the vehicle. Default security is set to WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2), requiring users to enter a randomly chosen password to connect to the Internet. When SYNC sees a new WiFi device for the first time, the driver must specifically allow that device to connect, preventing piggybacking on the SYNC-provided signal.
  • SYNC Phone Pairing Protection: The one-time pairing of a phone to SYNC is a simple process through Bluetooth wireless connectivity technology allowing up to 12 cell phones to be recognized by system. The short-range nature of Bluetooth technology makes SYNC's connection to a paired cell phone's stored information – contact lists and address books – possible only when the phone is inside the vehicle. If there's no phone in the cabin, the wireless connection is broken and there's no evidence of stored data for invaders to collect.
  • Encrypted Jukebox: Ford's onboard "Jukebox," which allows customers to download music onto a hard drive, has built-in digital rights management and encryption features. The encryption is unique to each navigation unit, which means the hard drive can't be removed, inserted into another vehicle's navigation system and accessed. In addition, hackers can't access the drive from another computer and enjoy those favorite tunes. Customers don't have to worry about someone hopping in their car sight unseen, plugging in a USB stick and doing a quick download of their personal music library, either. The Ford proprietary encryptions protect any songs saved to the system's digital jukebox – which can hold up to 2,400 tracks – from being moved or copied to another device.
  • "Home" Protection: Ford also gives customers with voice-activated navigation the ability to protect their programmed destinations and addresses – such as "Home" – from unauthorized eyes. A valet mode can be engaged on the system that locks all programmed destinations from view unless a 4-digit PIN is entered with each ignition key cycle. MyFord Touch will also offer a valet mode.
  • Engine Immobilizer: To help protect the vehicle, the mobile hub for all this personal information, Ford depends on SecuriLock. This patented passive anti-theft system prevents the engine from starting unless a coded ignition key is used. With SecuriLock, a wireless radio-frequency transmission is required to transfer an electronic code between a transponder in the key to the vehicle's ignition system. There are 72 million-billion possible codes so every Ford vehicle sold worldwide for the next 10 billion years will come with a unique code.
  • Securicode Keyless Entry: The Ford-exclusive keypad gives customers the ability to lock their key fob in the car if they desire (consider not having to worry about losing the expensive fob when biking a mountain trail, sunning on the beach or jamming at a rock concert). Securicode works on a secure 5-digit code. The latest iteration of the keypad employs similar touch-sensitive technology, processors and algorithms used by the iPod and iPhone.



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