CAR MAKERS have been dealing with the new realities of an age where cars will be connected to the internet.
With Google having announced production of its driverless, steering wheel free cars, this has presented privacy campaigners with a thorny problem.
Supplies of IPv4 internet addresses are nearly exhausted, and car makers are being alloted blocks of IPv6 addresses for vehicles.
Because of the sheer number of IPv6 addresses - 340 trillion, trillion, trillion of them - it means that the days of dynamic IP allocation are over, and at least for the next fifty years or so, as everything connected to the internet will be able to have it's own unique IP address.
And therein lies the rub. Because every car will have a unique identifier linked to GPS, cell towers and internet of things (IoT) devices, every car will be identifiable.
So what if you're in your driverless car, and a hacker decides to take control of your car and use it to lock the doors and kidnap you, or drive you into a convenient lake?
It might sound like the stuff of low-rent 1970s science fiction, but theoretically it could happen.
The INQUIRER spoke with Axel Pawlik, the MD of RIPE NCC, the organisation that allocates IP addresses for Europe and the Middle East. He told us why there is nothing to fear from IPv6.
"IPv6 is actually a good thing", he said. "Of course, being German, I am very aware that there is much suspicion around the area of privacy right now, but in actual fact, IPv6 allows us to ditch NAT solutions, which are the worst thing in the world."
Network Address Translation (NAT) has been used by internet service provides (ISPs) for a while in order eke out the last of the IPv4 addresses by running multiple clients from different ports of a router. However, this will only work for so long and runs the risk that, if a single IP address goes wrong, it can affect a large number of people.
But what about those runaway cars? Pawlik was pretty laid back about it, saying, "There are things we can do to scramble parts of an IP address to outsiders to ensure that there is some level of privacy, and we have looked at applying a dynamic IP on a use-by-use case each time the car connects, although that is fraught with its own complications."
But with Pawlik suggesting that the driver and passengers could have "up to half a dozen" IoT devices each in their pockets, on top of cars' internal internet systems, that is a lot of IP addresses, a lot of trackable technology and a big strain on the cellular networks that are carrying the data.
While it seems unlikely that there really will be gangs of remote carjackers anytime soon, the issue of privacy on the mobile internet is a hot topic, and with a recent survey suggesting that 50 percent of drivers will be influenced by internet features the next time they are buying a car, the topic seems set to run and run. Or rather, drive and drive. µ
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