Ford Uses Assembly Line WiFi To Load SYNC Software On MyFord Touch Vehicles

August 26, 2010

Chances are you already know all about Ford's SYNC and MyFord/MyLincoln Touch software. But did you know Ford is using the on-board WiFi to load the software on the cars while they're rolling down the Oakville assembly line?

The 2011 Ford Edge is the first vehicle to get the high-tech build process. It's a smart use of the technology, eliminating the need to pre-build different SYNC hardware configurations for use on Ford's various models. The total savings? The elimination of "around 90 unique part numbers," says Sukhwinder Wadhwa, SYNC global platform manager. Another benefit of having a single hardware configuration is improved quality control.

Using wireless communications to load any variant of the SYNC platform to any second-generation SYNC-equipped Ford also raises some interesting questions for security-conscious car shoppers.

Alan Hall, of Ford's technology communications department, answered our questions, and it seems there's nothing to worry about.

TCC: Does the universal SYNC hardware open the door to pirating MyFord/MyLincoln Touch and uploading it onto lower-tier SYNC-equipped cars?  

Hall: No. The software between SYNC generation 1 and generation 2 (MyFord Touch) are not compatible.

TCC: Does the ability to modify the core of the SYNC system wirelessly open the door to hackers taking control of a vehicle or uploading malicious code onto Ford cars?  

Hall: No. There are multiple measures in place to prevent any type of hacking:
1. Only Ford approved (signed through encryption) software can be installed at any point using this process.
2. This functionality is disabled once the vehicle leaves the factory.
3. A physical controller area network (CAN) connection or user initiated button press starts the process in the factory.  It cannot be initiated remotely and no WiFi connection is formed until the process is started locally.
4. Standard Wireless security mechanisms are in use (e.g. WPA2) even in the factory.
5. A network firewall is in place to prevent outside connections.

TCC: Is there any overlap between the infotainment/SYNC systems and critical vehicle systems? Would it be possible for hackers to bridge the gap?  

Hall: Some vehicle data (speed, diagnostic data) is shared with the SYNC system, but it is a one-way transfer through a firewall  

TCC: Is the ability to modify the car's software disabled once it leaves the factory?  

Hall: Yes. But, just as we have on the current generation of SYNC, we have the ability to add new features through USB download.  

TCC: Can dealers upgrade the software later as an add-on?  

Hall: That is not a current capability. Yes, it is possible, but we don't have the infrastructure or plans in place to do that just yet. But, as noted above, customers can upgrade their SYNC systems now through downloading new software from the owner website and installing through a USB stick.

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