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Ford preps anti-hacking tech for in-car WiFi

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Ford is developing anti-hacking technology in a bid to make upcoming in-car Wi-Fi systems resistant against drive-by downloads and other forms of computer security attacks.

The next generation of Ford SYNC, a built-in vehicle comms and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft, will come with secure Wi-Fi access and a built-in browser running on top of a Windows CE operating system. The technology is due to debut in the 2011 Ford Edge and 2011 MKX Lincoln later this year and adds extra capabilities to existing SYNC technology, which allows Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and media players to link into in-car systems. The wireless tech has allowed devices to be operated by either voice commands or in-car controls since it was introduced in 2008.

Ford has recognised that wireless systems in cars need to be accompanied by improved security features. Encryption will be used to protect the Wi-Fi network, with firewalls used to segment the vehicle's operational processors from entertainment and information systems. The Wi-Fi network, delivered via a USB-based modem, will use WPA2 encryption by default. Anti-malware protection will also be added to the MyFordTouch driver interface system, Dark Reading reports.

Sukhwinder Wadhwa, manager of the Sync platform and technologies at Ford, said the vehicle maker views security as integral to the delivery of extra service, not something that it bolts on as an afterthought.

Wadhwa told Dark Reading that Ford is yet to come across information security problems affecting its car thus far and wants to try to keep it that way as in-car systems start to resemble home networks. "We are connecting consumer-grade devices [in the vehicle], and we want to make sure out of the chute we are protected from any bad devices out there, like memory sticks or whatever they put [into the vehicle]," he said.

Ford is using its enterprise security teams as well as external consultants as penetration testers to evaluate the security of the upgraded Sync features. The motor manufacturer hopes to make secure Wi-Fi a standard option across its vehicle range within five years. ®

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