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EMCON: Infotainment & Preventing R F Leaks During Surveillance


Emissions control (EMCON) has just gotten a trickier due to infotainment. Infotainment is the term for the user interface systems now installed in most new vehicles. These systems allow the driver or passenger to control temperature, music, navigation, etc. and alert the driver to mechanical issues such as tire pressure changes or other issues. These systems are detectable because they are transmitting to satellites, cellular towers, Bluetooth devices and wifi. Anything connected to an infotainment system is a potential new data source. When these systems connect with cell phones they download a variety of data from the phone. For example, a phone’s list of contacts may be downloaded and stored so the user sees familiar names on the touchscreen. So much information is available that law enforcement has begun to request download of this data as possible evidence. For example, the infotainment system can alert the driver if a door is opened or ajar. An event involving an alert of this nature could be correlated with a GPS location in order to piece together events. In many cases the infotainment system can serve as a backup to phone records. For Traffic Accident Reconstruction, infotainment data is also used to corroborate forensic downloads from a vehicle’s “Black Box” or Event Data Recorder (EDR). While the EDR data is federally standardized requiring recording of certain data points such as speed and driver safety-belt use, the infotainment data is not regulated in any way and can be turned on and off by the vehicle owner. Take note: EDRs are not emitting RF and most people are not really aware that their cars have them. With infotainment systems, they are by nature very obvious, but the vehicle owner may not be aware of what data is being recorded or transmitted even though they may have tapped their consent on the infotainment screen.

Because infotainment systems are sending and receiving signals, they are discoverable by devices as simple as other cell phones and laptops. Criminals could potentially be using devices such as a commercially available $500 RF spectrum analyzer. The takeaway here: turn off the infotainment system when conducting surveillance, better yet, do it before arriving at the observation point. In the same vein, much surveillance equipment now utilizes wireless technology, which can also be detected by RF analyzers. Ensure equipment is not “discoverable” devices passing by and keep it off when not in use. Don’t forget about radar units and radar detectors as well.

Naturally, do not overlook the devices in your pockets - any other cell phones, watches / fitness trackers, or wireless headphones all have potential for RF leaks.