Wireless computer networks are giving dealership employees new freedom in their jobs.
The major benefit is flexibility. Wireless networks use radio waves, and that means:
But with that freedom comes danger.
Standards for Technology in Automotive Retail, an auto industry group seeking guidelines for wireless technology, says wireless networks can be vulnerable to computer hackers.
Without proper security, the group says, a hacker could eavesdrop on network traffic and obtain private dealership and consumer information. Or the hacker could launch an attack that would destroy important files.
While computer security also is important with wired systems, the group points out that "typical wired networks have a degree of security inherent in them because physical access is limited by the confines of a building structure."
With a wireless system, a hacker wouldn't have to be on the dealership grounds. He or she could be in a car across the street.
The industry group consists of 18 automakers, 22 dealership technology vendors and the National Automobile Dealers Association. It advises dealers on ways to secure their wireless networks.
Its recommendations are included in the group's Dealership Infrastructure Guidelines, issued June 24. The guidelines are meant to help dealers communicate with automakers and others over the Internet.
"You can't go to the library and check out a book on this," says Mark Rush, general manager of Ron Rush Lincoln-Mercury in Columbus, Ohio. "We are trying to be the reference book."
The guidelines include minimum security requirements such as encryption techniques, firewalls and address filtering.
Other defenses against experienced hackers include a user authentication system that requires a user name and password.
Rush, a member of the dealer advisory group, says the organization has no statistics on how many dealers have gone to wireless networks, but there is growing interest. "Dealers are dipping their toes in the water," he says.
NADA does not keep statistics on use of wireless networks. But a spokesman says dealers like the freedom it offers technicians, salespeople and service advisers.
Says NADA spokesman Jeffrey Beddow: "Overall, the benefits are that it adds significant flexibility to work processes and dealership staff mobility."