The Cyber Car: The Intimate Tango of the 21st Century

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Asaf Atzmon


The automotive industry is currently undergoing a dramatic revolution. This is a statement being echoed by leaders from across the sector, with individuals such as GM CEO Mary Barra professing that the automotive industry is set to change more in the next five to ten years than it has in the last 50.  

The question that arises is why those of us involved in the automotive world seem to believe that such a monumental paradigm shift is taking place. Quite simply, in-car connectivity is increasing at an almost stratospheric rate. In-car connectiveness has now reached the point of no return and is set to proliferate rapidly throughout the next decade, with 150 million connected cars set to be on the road by 2020.

The Connected Car - A Great Opportunity or Existential Threat?

As previously asserted, experts and leaders in the automotive sphere unanimously believe that the industry is undergoing a revolution – arguably the most dramatic since the advent of the first car. As the car becomes computerized and increasingly connected, with access to the Internet and cloud computing, so the propensity for hacking grows. This explosion of in-car connectivity is analogous to the revolution experienced in computing with the creation of the Internet. It is particularly necessary for automakers to take heed. This is because in the computer industry there was also an existing infrastructure (of data processing and computing power) that had not been built to be connected. The moment the computer became connected, it created a negative result – hacking and cyber attacks. What the automotive industry is experiencing today is a very similar phenomenon. However, automobile manufacturers have an additional issue to contend with that their counterparts in the computing sector did not – with car hacking, the results can be fatal.

To add some perspective on the connectivity of cars today, it’s amazing to think that the modern car already has over 70 dedicated CPUs that are responsible for the most sensitive systems. These range from functions such as central locking through to the transmission and engine ignition. It is also worth noting that that the quantity of the software is not only growing, but is becoming increasingly complex. A car manufactured today can be expected to have around 100 million lines of code, with a third of manufacturing costs now relating to the hardware and software that is installed within. Intertwine these variables to the ability of cars today being able to connect to cellular networks, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, then it is extremely easy to see how vulnerable and susceptible cars of the future could be to cyber attacks. Not to mention that a car in production today can have up to 15 points of entry for hackers via these connective methods.

The Journey – Next Steps into the Future

The automotive industry is now at a point of no return. Cyber is here to stay and the industry is very well aware of the vulnerability of connected cars. It is now the responsibility of the main players to address the fact that an inherent cyber security capability becomes a precondition for the continued development of connected and autonomous cars. At all costs, it is integral that consumers remain protected from the threats that increased connectivity bring. If protection is guaranteed and consumers remain safe, then the opportunities this will present for manufacturers is almost limitless, with consumer experience moving to another level.

Solutions – Detecting and Blocking Attempts to Penetrate a Car’s Internal and External Networks

To secure connected cars, firewall-like systems are needed to protect against attacks on the internal network of the car and stop penetration from outside the network. Having this protected network sit in a strategic location inside the vehicle can also prevent malicious threats.  

Through sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, systems can identify anomalies and attempted attacks quickly. At the same time, they can block cyber attacks and simultaneously issue reports with deep analysis to the central vehicle management system. Connected cars also need cyber security solutions that defend against threats through wireless interfaces such as cellular networks, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. They need to be able to mitigate against hackers that have already entered the car’s communications network via micro-controllers, considering they are especially vulnerable to attack via a wireless network.

The stakes are always high when dealing with safety-critical functions, but the automotive industry and the tech companies that support it are rising to the challenge. By working together, adopting a holistic approach and evolving with the technology, we aim to remain one step ahead of threats at all times. That way the connected car will be free to maximize its huge and fascinating potential.

About the author: Asaf Atzmon is Director, Business Development & Marketing, Automotive Cyber Security - TowerSec at HARMAN, the premier connected technologies company for automotive, consumer and enterprise markets. Asaf joined HARMAN with the acquisition of TowerSec in January 2016 where he served as VP, Business Development & Marketing.

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