By Debra Kahn, PoliticoPRO 

July 31, 2019

Regulators should protect drivers from car vulnerabilities stemming from hackers as vehicles rely increasingly on internet connectivity, Consumer Watchdog said Wednesday as it released a report on the issue.

Citing research finding security issues in internet-connected cars as well as automakers' own investor risk disclosures, the group is calling for regulators or Congress to require that cars provide a way to disconnect their essential systems from the internet and other networks to protect against hacking.

The report cites estimates of 50 million internet-connected cars on the road today and an annual increase of about 17 million cars. "With connected cars rapidly overtaking the market, consumers will soon have no haven from the online connections that threaten them," it says.

The Auto Alliance, which represents most major auto manufacturers, acknowledged the risk and said it was working on cybersecurity. "Automakers are taking many protective actions, including designing vehicles from the start with security features and adding cybersecurity measures to new and redesigned models," spokesperson Gloria Bergquist said in an email. "Cybersecurity is everyone's responsibility, and consumers — along with automakers and their suppliers — need to be vigilant."

Consumer Watchdog is finding traction with state lawmakers, some of whom are already wary of car companies giving insurers more information about drivers' behavior. Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara raised consumer advocates' hackles after he met with insurers last week and expressed enthusiasm about factoring car data into auto insurance rates.

"There is some real serious concern about the potential to hack into a vehicle and immobilize vehicles, their braking system, their steering systems and so forth, which could create tremendous, serious consequences to the people in those vehicles and those around them," state Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said in an interview with POLITICO. "I certainly think that as we hear about more and more of these hacks, as we see our privacy being eviscerated, we really have to have a serious conversation about what our priorities are."