Time for car makers to face new challenges, says Ptolemus Consulting following Jeep ‘hackjack’

Alexandra Willard of PTOLEMUS Consulting Group

You may have seen the article and video in Wired about hackers gaining remote access to an SUV’s Controller Area Network (CAN)  through the Bluetooth interface of the Uconnect entertainment system. Here Alexandra Willard, director of Global Technology Practice at PTOLEMUS Consulting Group responds:

“I think we can safely say that this is a problem that the automakers have and THEY should be the ones to develop the solution. Knee-jerk reactions by governments, no matter how well intentioned, often result in very poor solutions being devised.

We in the connected car software world have been aware of the possibility of vehicle cyber attacks for many years but it has not been possible to get the automakers to collaborate in making their vehicles more cyber-secure. Car manufacturers operate in silos.

Culture of metal and plastic

It’s time for the automakers to put aside their culture of metal and plastic, and to realise that their biggest challenges now come in bits and bootloaders.

They need to agree a set of short terms actions which will make their vehicles safe even if this means a limitation in functionality – and then develop a joint road map to ensure that the digital systems on the car are as safe and secure as the mechanical systems. This test and validation approach is what they know and what they do well – time to ‘go-do it’.

Let’s not be naive

We should not be naive about this Jeep incident though. A Ford Pinto-type episode (where the fuel tank placement was proven deadly and Ford was aware of this flaw during the design stage of the Pinto but went ahead with the production regardless) would put the connected car industry back 10 years – and we will all be the losers.

In terms of short terms actions, without implementing a stop to the over-the-air update boot loader it’s going to be incredibly tricky. A medium-term solution would be to have a grid server on the car which would handle external requests (as is done with web services for all sorts of secure system on the internet already).

We’re going to need a working group of cyber security, automotive engineers and software engineers to sort this out and agree a future standard.

Finally, we should remember to keep a sense of realism. The easier a digital system is to upgrade, maintain and to connect with, the easier it is to hack. That’s a fact of digital life.

Note: Chrysler has issued a recall for 1.4 million vehicles as a result of Miller and Valasek’s research. The company has also blocked their wireless attack on Sprint’s network to protect vehicles with the vulnerable software.

This blog was first posted by Alexandra Willard.

It is reproduced here by kind permission.

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