Ford Wants To Upgrade 2010-2016 Vehicles With Smart OBD Plug Named SmartLink

2015 Ford Fusion 5 photos
Photo: Ford
2014 Lincoln MKX2014 Lincoln MKZ2015 Ford FusionFord SmartLink logo
Ford has announced a decision to add connectivity features to older models using a plug-in device named SmartLink.
The Blue Oval’s announcement refers to an OBD II device, which is commonly referred to as an “OBD plug,” and its developments on the unit can bring additional features to a modern vehicle. Every car sold in the USA after 1995 comes with an OBD-II diagnostics port, which is placed somewhere in the passenger compartment.

The idea is to get 12-Volt power from that port, usually employed for diagnostic work on the vehicle’s systems through its CAN (Controller Area Network), and supply the user with a 4G/LTE connection that enables the car to be considered “smart.”

According to the automaker, the SmartLink device is paired with a “companion app” and a web portal, which enable the user to have access to features like remote start, lock, unlock, and check vehicle “health.”

The device is not an industry premiere, but it is the first time when a carmaker offers this kind of technology to its customers. In the case of SmartLink, the idea is to retrofit features to 2010-2016 Ford and Lincoln models sold in the USA, but it might be extended to vehicles marketed in other countries, because they also have the same diagnostics port.

All of the described features are possible thanks to a modem that is implemented into the dongle, which can also act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices present in the vehicle, while also allowing a connection from a distance between the owner and the automobile. Clients will be able to obtain SmartLink from Ford and Lincoln dealerships starting this summer.

Unlike other commercially-available devices like these, the SmartLink system should come with a higher level of security because it was developed with an automaker and two important partners - Delphi Automotive and Verizon Telematics.

The representatives of the FoMoCo say that SmartLink will operate seamlessly with existing models, and that it will provide a level of convenience to existing customers that were not interested in changing their vehicles, but wanted more connectivity out of them.

As our tech-savvy readers can imagine, it can be dangerous to have a device paired to a vehicle’s CAN and the Internet at the same time, because the former is not secure enough to ensure its safety. After all, the CANbus system is meant for mechanics to use when performing a diagnostic or repair on an automobile, but hackers could break into the connection and perform a remote attack on the car. The partnership between the Blue Oval and two reputable companies should ensure enough security on the four-wheeled part of the equation.
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Editor's note: A car owner interested in a solution that involves an OBD plug with Internet connectivity should be cautious of its capabilities, as fitting something to your car that can enable/disable systems from a distance poses a security risk.

The user's phone can be hacked, and so can the app that mitigates the connection between the two.

If the OBD dongle can "write" information to the CAN bus, it can turn off an engine while running, unlock doors without the user's permission, and more.

If it just reads information (lacks the necessary pins to write), then it is not capable to deactivate systems, but still poses a security risk because it can leak sensitive information.

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About the author: Sebastian Toma
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Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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