President’s Message: Rental Vehicles and Cell Phone Data

Feb 1, 2017 by

It is common to fly to another city, rent a car at the airport, attend an event, maybe stay overnight, return the car, and then fly home. It is also common to connect a cellphone to the rental car to make phone calls, use the GPS, check emails, and recharge the battery. What most people are not aware of is that when the cellphone is connected (by cable or by Bluetooth) to the vehicle infotainment and telematics systems of the rental car, the cellphone’s information is frequently copied into the vehicle unit’s memory, so it can more quickly respond to the user commands.

This data remains there until it is actively removed. There are forensic hardware/software packages that can access this information. This also means that the bad guys have ways to retrieve it. At a conference, I heard one forensic investigator say that his particular late-model airport rental had the stored data of 30+ different previous rental car customers. Address books, SMS messages, emails, social media feeds, and GPS histories are all potentially left behind when the customer turns in the rental car.

So what to do if you don’t want to leave this potential treasure trove behind? Either take the time to find out how to erase your usage from a particular vehicle or do not connect the vehicle’s infotainment and telematics system to your phone. What if you just want to charge and not connect your phone? Buy and use a power-only, no-data transfer, USB adapter to recharge your phone in your rental car, available for under $10 on Amazon.

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