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Smart Cars and Security – The Game of Risks

We live in an age where the latest innovations are developed at an incredible pace. One of the most important industries by revenue is the automobile one. It is expected from all competitors to bring forth innovation to survive. The safety measures that are featured on an automobile are probably one of the most important factors when customers choose their vehicles. But in the age of the connected car, the autonomous driving experience and the IoT systems in charge, is the cyber security aspect at stake?

Smart Cars Are Driven by Innovation

The ongoing development of smart cars by manufacturers worldwide is the latest trend and probably the revolution that will change our perspectives on how we travel and commute. According to the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA), smart cars are defined “by the integration of connected components in the car in order to bring added-value services to drivers and passengers”.

The institution has specified a field of study that is related to both Smart Cars and the Intelligent Roads which use connected cyber-physical components on the road itself that allows operators to monitor and optimize the traffic conditions. These two technologies rely on the Internet of Things (IoT) as a platform. The agency is taking security seriously by creating a specialist ENISA Cars and Roads Security (CaRSEC) Expert Group which gathers experts from the industry. These include the following specialists:

  • Car manufacturing with a focus on cyber security
  • Suppliers and developers of vehicular hardware and/or software with a focus on cyber security
  • Associations and not-for-profit organizations involved in cars security
  • Road authorities, academia, standardization bodies and policy makers

These measures are taken into place not only to research how smart cars can stay secure, but to also present insight on what kind of security issues may occur. Remember, smart cars are a work-in-progress idea that is actively being developed by all major manufacturers. As such the different ideas, concepts and technologies offer unique challenges to both designers and security experts.

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Security Challenges in Smart Cars

The definition of a smart car has faced several changes in the past ten years. A smart car ten years ago may have meant a complex infotainment setup with DVD players and built-in GPS and phone connection via Bluetooth. Now, the smart car not only is connected to the Internet and allows for a variety of services to be used while driving. And as the autonomous technologies continue to improve, we now see the smart car not as a vehicle, but as something more feature-rich and exciting.

Experts from different backgrounds and industries often compare the old definition of cars with smart cars like the phone and the smartphone – a revolutionary change of perspective, features and security challenges.

Last year there were several famous incidents involving smart cars. The journalist Andy Greenberg witnessed how two security investigators took control of a smart car by exploiting a vulnerability in the entertainment and navigation system. A demonstration was carried out from a distance of 15 kilometers, making it a really serious problem. Cheap homemade devices have been shown to be able to intercept data communication between the smart engine start features and the user smartphones. This allows hackers to potentially exploit the vehicles and even steal them.

Security experts compare the safety of the smart cars to the protection of desktop computers in the 80s. Experts express concerns that smart car platforms are being developed without taking the necessary precautions for presenting a completely secure product. A recent issue that gained notoriety is the security vulnerability found in the MirrorLink protocol. This was discovered by a team of researchers that have found serious weaknesses in the standard. The issues can be exploited if an attacker can get access to the IVI and CAN controller. They can send arbitrary messages over the connection that could potentially effect the critical safety systems.

The consequences? Security vendors have started to offer solutions that safeguard cars (both “old-fashioned” and “smart”) just like protection measures are available in every other industry.

Smart Car Software Security Challenges

Automobile manufacturers often work with partners when they implement software solutions. The adoption of a smart platform allows users to connect various types of devices to the car via wireless technologies. As expected this does impose serious concerns as every implementation can be potentially dangerous if not executed according to the specifications.

The smart car platform is viewed as an important step in accustoming the Internet of Things (IoT) to vehicles. The technology will offer the ability to view, control and setup our cars via our smartphones, tablets, and computers. Numerous other ideas are already in discussion such as the installation of third-party apps and other related functionality.

The smart cars are going to be the newest platforms for innovation and development. If we see the implementation like most modern mobile operating systems, then we may very well have to adopt the security habits from there as well like updating the software via App Stores, safeguarding our profiles and making sure to always stay updated on the latest news.

Martin Beltov

Martin graduated with a degree in Publishing from Sofia University. As a cyber security enthusiast he enjoys writing about the latest threats and mechanisms of intrusion.