CEIC 2014: The Car of the Future May be a Forensic Gold Mine

Move over KITT, it looks like you have some competition.

Automotive leaders like Chrysler, Ford, BMW and General Motors are investing in technology that incorporates text-to-voice solutions, enabling drivers to check email and text messages as they drive. With Ford SYNC, drivers can make hands-free phone calls, control their music and more with voice commands.

In his session on vehicle forensics at CEIC 2014, Berla Corporation CEO Ben LeMere discussed new and emerging technologies that are being adopted by automobile companies. These companies are now developing vehicles that create an experience to entertain and inform drivers and passengers while also facilitating voice and data communications on the road.

While your car is playing Pandora or updating your Facebook status, it’s also storing a tremendous amount of data. According to LeMere, vehicle infotainment (information and entertainment) systems can store a vast amount of user-recorded data, such as recent destinations, favorite locations, call logs, contact lists, SMS messages, and the navigation history of everywhere the car has been.

Typically this information is not easily retrievable. Oftentimes it is stored in one or many of the embedded systems in a vehicle. However, it could yield valuable evidence to support a criminal investigation, and it could also leave drivers vulnerable to automobile hacks.

Examining the technology under the hood

There are two technologies at play in “smart” cars: infotainment and telematics. Infotainment technologies include a collection of devices that provide audio and visual entertainment, as well as automotive navigation systems. Telematics is the integration of telecommunications and information such as Bluetooth.

At the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, both Audi and Chevrolet unveiled plans for embedding 4G telematics in their vehicles. General Motors also has plans to install 4G LTE technology in its 2015 Chevrolet models.

Wireless carriers like AT&T are also eyeing this market. AT&T claims that connected cars will let customers control them from their wireless devices. Built-in hotspots will enable services like Internet radio, video streaming and web browsing.

There’s an infrastructure inside your car connecting these technologies. CAN bus–a vehicle bus standard–enables microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other within a vehicle without a host computer.

According to LeMere, the connected car is expected to grow to be a $39 billion industry by 2018, according to GMSA Research. These vehicles may use several technologies such as cloud computing, wireless technology, and GPS.

What does the car of the future mean for investigators?

It is now possible for investigators to tap into the car’s network to look for valuable data. LeMere noted that dissembling instructions for many systems can be found online.

Among the information that one can find by examining a car’s unit: a history of phone calls, contacts and address book information, current and previous programmed destinations, and recent and stored locations.

Last year, police in Glasgow, Scotland, were able to connect an individual to attempted murder after discovering the tracking device on the Audi 3 he was driving placed him in the location of the attack.

The information stored in cars’ systems may enable investigators to connect the dots in criminal and civil matters. Will connected cars help investigators catch criminals faster? What forensic opportunities do you think smart car technology can provide?

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