Could Your New Car Be a National Security Risk?

Those old enough to remember can think back to the Cloak and Dagger days of the Cold War and espionage without the internet. Imagine what intelligence communities would have done if they had the internet at the time. Today, something even more useful and potentially nefarious is available to these organizations, your new car. That’s right; your new car could eventually be a national security risk.

Tesla banned over security concerns in a Chinese resort town

A blue Tesla Model 3 parked in a showroom.
Tesla Model 3 | Getty Images

It’s not a secret the Chinese government is extremely cautious and wary of any form of western technology and potential data collection. Most of us would never think this could be our cars, but China certainly does. Wired tells us that Tesla has been banned from Beidaihe, a resort town along the coast, for the next two months. This isn’t the first ban, either. Before President Xi Jinping visited Chengdu, Tesla was also banned from this town.

What’s the reason for these bans? The advanced array of cameras, sensors, and data collection technology aboard these Tesla vehicles. While China gave no official reason, these bans seem to e out of the concern that a Tesla vehicle could gain line of sight into meetings of Chinese leadership and potentially transmit information back to the United States.

Will new Chinese EVs collect and send data from the west?

Its not just Tesla that could create a data breech, all connected cars, like this red Mercedes-Benz AMG EQS have that potential
2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG EQS Could be a National Security Risk | Mercedes-Benz

Unless Europe and the United States take similar precautions as China, it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that Chinese-made EVs will collect data and transmit it to Beijing for analysis.

You might not think the data collected could be very useful, but new cars with GPS information and cloud-based storage gather a great deal of data regarding your everyday habits. While you might not become the target of an attack, the information from your car could be part of the national security risk based solely on the information gathered and sent to China.

China quells national security risks with strict regulations

Tesla was required to build a dedicated data center in mainland China. This satisfied the regulations that all data collected by vehicles in the country remain in China. This met the rules published in 2021 that essentially prohibit automakers from transmitting data outside the borders. All companies must report to the Chinese government what type of data it collects on vehicle owners.

Can data breaches and espionage truly happen with new cars?

this Spy Collecting Data could be gathering information from your new car, making your car a national security risk
Spy Collecting Data | Shutterstock

Yes, not only can these things happen, but they also already have. In an effort to assist Tesla and other automakers in making their vehicles harder to access, David Columbo gained access to various Tesla vehicles in different countries. He wrote for the Medium about his experience, and the amount of data collected is incredible. He could track regular daily patterns and gain control of some vehicle systems. This created serious concerns in the models hacked.

Could a national security risk create trouble for political convoys?

Yes, a breach of the data system used in modern political convoys could lead to serious trouble. You might think that governments would be ahead of hackers, but DW reported that Germany’s state-owned vehicle fleet was thought to be hacked not long ago. This fleet of vehicles transports heads of state and dignitaries around the country. Germany thought Russia was behind this hack in 2020 but found nothing to link Russia to the hack.

The unpopular choice to ensure data security

How can the federal government ensure your new vehicle doesn’t become a national security risk that leads to the death of world leaders? Policymakers must step up the regulations, which is certainly the most unpopular action they can take. While we live in a country where we feel regulated to death, protecting the data collected on drivers and domestic information is more important than ever.

We may be fast approaching a time that George Orwell warned about with Big Brother watching us, Cloak and Dagger espionage running rampant, and a push back into the Cold War. Of course, some of that could also be nothing more than extreme scenarios. Still, government leaders and automakers should do something to make data collected from our vehicles much more secure.

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