Americans reluctant to buy from automakers hit by cybercrime

Blending the digital era with automobiles has led to cybersecurity concerns.

If there's an electronic access point, it's almost certain that hackers will try to exploit it. This sad-but-truism is quite clear in today's highly connected universe where internet access is practically everywhere – even in cars.

Hack attempts in automobiles are still somewhat rare, as according to a recent survey by vehicle valuation firm Kelley Blue Book, only 26% of Americans can think of an incident that's happened in the last year or so. However, were one to occur, a strong majority of Americans would think twice about buying from the automaker that was victimized.

Over 80% of consumers say that they'd be reluctant to buy from automakers if they knew beforehand that the companies were hit by cyberattacks, based on a recent poll conducted by KPMG.

Age of the connected car

Many of today's vehicles come standard with various features that allow for internet access and storing personal information. They also have technology that enables owners to lock or open their doors from distance places. However, hackers have uncovered vulnerabilities along the way and taken advantage of them where available.

Americans' knowledge of this has piqued their attention. For instance, in the KPMG survey, 7 in 10 said they had concerns about their vehicle being hacked without their noticing. Additionally, 79% said if that were to happen, it would affect their opinion of the company that built their automobile.

"Cars and trucks have evolved into highly-complex computers on wheels, with increased connectivity that presents some real and important cybersecurity risks, the most significant of which is safety," KPMG Automotive Sector Leader Gary Silberg explained. "Unlike most consumer products, a vehicle breach can be life-threatening, especially if the vehicle is driving at highway speeds and a hacker gains control of the car. That is a very scary, but possible scenario, and it's easy to see why consumers are so sensitive about cybersecurity as it relates to their car."

Losing control of car No. 1 worry

It's the taking control of their vehicles that motorists are the most concerned over. At 41%, the biggest worry respondents had was the potential for this to happen, the KPMG poll discovered. At 25%, stolen personal data was another major source of distress.

Silberg argued that the onus is on manufacturers to see to it that the technology they install is secure.

"Car companies need to take action now and make cybersecurity a strategic imperative to ensure they are doing everything possible to protect the drivers of their vehicles," Silberg warned.

The auto industry has partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop additional strategies that can guard against security breaches, sharing information with one another so all parties stand to benefit.

Even though only a handful of Americans can remember an incident where hacking took place, most are of the mindset that they'll occur with increasing frequency in the years ahead. Eight in 10 believe connected cars will be compromised more often in three years or less, based on a separate poll also done by Kelley Blue Book.