A Guy Gets in a Tesla in Ukraine…

A Tesla driver in Ukraine got a “free ride” on Spotify, courtesy of a US Tesla owner whose car was totaled. It was one of the many ways electronic hitchhikers can access your data on so many different kinds of things. This is just the latest story of how our data lives on – and on – when we no longer own (or lease) a car with an infotainment system or Bluetooth, a copier, or a mobile device.

How did a Tesla owner in Ukraine happen to have access to a Spotify account? It happened like this.

An executive news editor at a major TV outlet recently tweeted (or X’d) that a Tesla he had totaled last year was now in southern Ukraine, and the new owner was listening to Drake on his Spotify account. Reporters tracked down what happened to their editor’s car. An online auction site scooped up the Tesla after it was totaled and listed for sale. Someone in Ukraine appears to have won the bid, and the car was shipped from New Jersey to Europe, where its new owner was able to access the editor’s personal Spotify playlists.

The editor contacted Tesla to see how he could log out of his former car, and the company instructed him to disconnect the vehicle from his account. But several steps, such as entering new owner information, were impossible. Experts in data security told reporters that simply disconnecting an account from the car does not prevent your data from being extracted. They said Tesla should have had a feature to “wipe all my info from this car” long ago.

This is far from a Tesla-specific issue. Cars, laptops, smartphones, TVs, and even refrigerators are now internet-connected devices that can store personal data.

In the office, networked copiers are used as printers and scanners and save everything that passes through them. The equipment manufacturers build this in because leases can be based on the number of pages a unit scans, copies or prints. Today’s units also have long service lives after a lease expires. So when you turn back a copier to lease a newer model, the copier company puts it back on the market. Unless you’ve taken specific steps to wipe the data clean, every document run through the copier goes on the market, too.

We must confess we don’t have access to the menus for the service functions that can wipe the data from a unit, and we haven’t found a way into them – yet. So your best resort is to contact your copier company and make sure all your personal data is wiped clean before the machine leaves your premises.

It may take a little searching through the menus for other devices, but you should be able to find the magic button that returns each of them to factory default settings. iPhones are top of mind for this now because the iPhone 15 is hitting the market later this month, and that – along with new phones from other manufacturers – triggers a spree of trade-ins to bring down the price of a new phone. You might also plan to get new computers for your office or your children for the new school year. The same principle applies. Wipe every device clean of all your data.

Along the same lines, wipe them clean if you’re renting a car and using your data on the Bluetooth and infotainment system, including iOS and Android systems that run through the radio. And make sure you log out of your TV subscriptions before checking out of your hotel room or rental home.

If you’re not sure how to wipe a device clean or log out of a subscription, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to walk you through the process. We recommend you do this well before you turn in your car or room key so we’re available to help. In the age of internet-connected vehicles and devices, you never know who’s going to get one of them next.

Summer Safety for Your ID Data

Did you get a good rate on your car rental for this summer’s trip? The real bargain might go to whoever downloads your personal data from the electronic breadcrumbs you might leave behind. Taking the time to button down a few details can save you a lot of grief.

Let’s start with cleaning out that rental car. Rental companies always update their fleets, and they want you to feel as comfortable as you would feel in your own car. One of the features increasingly common at any price and size level is Bluetooth, which lets you use the car’s audio system for handling calls on your smartphone, streaming music and getting directions from any GPS system you want to use. Some cars include a USB connection so you can have all those features and charge your phone.

That’s a great convenience, but as we’ve noted many times before, convenience usually involves a tradeoff with security. Syndicated radio host and blogger Kim Komando of the Kim Komando Show, gets to the heart of the issue.

“When you connect your gadget to a car with Bluetooth, the car stores your phone number in order to make it easier to connect later,” she points out. “It also stores your call logs, which include any contacts you dialed. There’s just one problem: All of that information is saved inside the system and is just sitting around for the next renter to find.”

We’re sure there are some other tech-savvy people who could also see your data before the car goes back on the road. So, take some time to clean up your electronic breadcrumbs – and build that time into your schedule for returning your rental car.

Komando offers two suggestions.

“Simply go into the car’s settings (it will vary for every car make and model) and locate your smartphone from the list of previously paired Bluetooth gadgets,” she writes. “There should be an option to delete your phone. That should wipe the call logs and saved contacts. Better yet, look for an option to clear all user data or do a complete factory reset. Talk to the employees at the car rental place if you can’t find these options.”

To that, we would add that you should not leave your car until you take care of this – or be prepared to email the rental company’s customer service department right from the check-in line. You could also post to Facebook or tweet about the problem – right then and there. But you’re better off getting the data deleted.

If you used the car’s navigation system, go into its settings and clear your location history. You don’t want anybody knowing where you’ve been or where you live.

By the way, if you are selling or trading in your car and turning back a leased vehicle, you should follow all of the suggestions for rental cars.

Komando’s article also talks about how easy it is for someone to hack into a car’s computer system and some of the consequences. Again, for your own data security, she recommends using the cigarette lighter adapter to charge your phone instead of a USB connection in the car or bringing along your own third-party Bluetooth audio kit for hands-free use of your smartphone. She adds that systems are being developed to allow you to use your device without storing any information in the car.

We have some other tips to protect your data and your hardware:

  • Remember that your data is out there for anyone to see when you use a public, unsecured Wi-Fi network. It’s not a good network to use for accessing your bank, credit card company or institution that has sensitive data. A secured Wi-Fi network is better, and so is your cellular data network.
  • Whether traveling or in your office or home, we recommend using a surge protector while your computer is plugged into the socket. Summer is a notorious season for power surges when you have lightning and power interruptions, and they can damage your machine’s circuitry. If your computer is older, it’s more susceptible to possible damage.
  • When working from your computer’s regular location, we recommend using a battery back-up system that sits between your outlet and your equipment. In the event of a power outage – even a very brief outage can trigger a computer shutdown – you’ll be able to save your work and initiate proper shutdown procedures to protect your work and equipment. Most battery back-up systems have outlets for you to plug in your computer, your gateway/router, printer and other similar devices.

If you have any questions at all about automotive systems or protecting your equipment during the summer, we’re happy to answer them or help you with installing or configuring any products. Contact us at 973-433-6676 or email us.