Jeff Plungis of Consumer Reports observes that the recent “WannaCry” ransomware attack highlights the digital vulnerabilities in our daily lives, including connected vehicles which increasingly rely on computer chips and more than 100 million lines of computer code to operate. Nevertheless, automakers have yet to install the same levels of security found in other devices, such as phones and laptops.
“The FBI issued a warning last year for the auto industry to be ever-vigilant about developing cybersecurity as autonomous technology advances and as cars become ever-more connected,” he explained.
“And multiple academic and industry consortiums and partnerships, as well as for-profit corporations, are working on the concern.”
One possible hacking scenario, says Plungis, involves cyber criminals inserting ransomware malware in a vehicle’s operating system – perhaps via an unprotected internet connection and effectively locking out driving functions.
“[This means] a driver might find his or her car unable to start. A message pops on the control screen with instructions for how to pay a ransom to make the vehicle start again,” he elaborated.
As Craig Hurst, executive director of the Future of Automotive Security Technology Research (FASTR) notes, once you connect a car to the internet, the entire vehicle becomes a threat surface.
“If the auto industry doesn’t adapt, we’ll continue to see mistakes and potential vulnerabilities for things like ransomware to take place,” Hurst added.
Asaf Ashkenazi, senior director of marketing for Rambus Security, expressed similar sentiments about automotive cybersecurity during an interview with Semiconductor Engineering earlier this year, pointing out that there was a time when electronic devices and vehicles had only to contend with the threat of local attacks.
“Once you add internet connectivity, even if you think the connectivity is limited, it actually eases access to anyone in the world. This makes the device very vulnerable. Unlike mobile phones and PCs in the past, these devices are actually doing physical things in the real world. If it’s a car, it’s driving. You can do things that are physically affecting it,” he explained. “And this is true for many other IoT devices, from smart cities to home security. So, on one hand, we suddenly have the vulnerabilities that are added and the potential damages can be much bigger, because we now add cyber to the physical world. On the other hand, there is almost no security in many of these devices.”
According to Ashkenazi, the complexity of connected vehicles presents a unique challenge for the automotive industry.
“People tend to see the car as a mechanical machine, [so] they don’t understand the amount of electronics that gets into a car these days. In the average car, there are more lines of code than in some commercial aircraft,” he observed. “The number of electronic components, the chips, that are running in a car is huge. The potential for an attack as you have more lines and more devices—what we call the attack surface—is much bigger.”
Ashkenazi also emphasized that chipmakers should embed a root-of-trust in appropriate hardware.
“[Because] in reality, there is not enough security in chipsets going into automotive [systems and components]. Nobody thought of it in advance and [that is why] we have some problems today,” he stated.
In addition, Ashkenazi commented on V2V and V2I, as future vehicles are expected to increase their interaction with the surrounding environment, other vehicles, as well as roads, traffic lights and signs. According to Ashkenazi, the comprehensive interaction of the car with its environment will allow vehicles to exploit valuable data generated by external sources – and to share that information with others.
“[However], the benefits of sharing information comes at great risk. V2V and V2I will expose the car to hackers and malicious payloads, manipulating the external communication channels,” he told the publication.
To ensure the security for future cars, says Ashkenazi, automotive software will require a transformation.
“First, the car’s different software components will have to authenticate external systems it interacts with and trust the data it receives,” he explained. “This can be done with cryptography and keys, backed by a hardware root-of-trust. Second, a car’s software quality will have to be improved to reduce the number of bugs and vulnerabilities. This can be done by adopting secure coding methods and practices, as well as tighter code quality reviews.”
In addition, says Ashkenazi, various software systems in the vehicle will have to be separated and contained.
“[This] assures that a compromise of one software system does not spread and compromise other systems in the car— similar to how ships use compartments to contain torpedo damage,” he concluded.