Are Connected Cars on a Collision Course with Network Security?

Are Connected Cars on a Collision Course with Network Security?Flipping through any consumer publication that rates vehicles, you’ll see all the metrics you would expect – from safety and performance (acceleration, braking, etc.) to comfort, convenience and fuel economy.

What you won’t find is an assessment of the car’s risk of being remotely hacked. Unfortunately, if you happen to drive a 2014 Jeep Cherokee or 2015 Cadillac Escalade, your vehicle would likely have a one-star review in Consumer Reports for cybersecurity.

These vehicles, along with 22 others with network capabilities, were profiled by researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek during Black Hat 2014 earlier this month. They warned that a malicious attacker could hack into a connected car, doing anything from “enabling a microphone for eavesdropping to turning the steering wheel to disabling the brakes.”

Days later, during the DefCon hacker conference, a group of security researchers calling themselves “I Am The Cavalry” sounded the same alarm, urging the automobile industry to build safer computer systems in vehicles.

The warning comes years after automakers started testing the connected car waters, most notably Ford, as far back as 2010, with its “MyFord Touch” mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Since then, Google has been in the driver’s seat of the connected car movement. There’s been buzz around Google’s efforts to produce self-driving cars for years, and the smoke signals only grew more prominent after Google moved its head of Android, Andy Rubin, to the robotics division of the company.

While the convenience of connected cars will no doubt increase their popularity, it’s important for manufacturers of all network-ready vehicles to remember the importance of security technology. As we wrote last year about connected cars, attackers don’t care what mobile endpoint they’re hacking – as long as it’s connected to the Internet, it’s a target.

Vehicles: Just One of Many ‘Things’ Hackers Can Target

Although I Am The Cavalry gained recent attention because of its focus on connected vehicles, the hacker coalition has taken a broader approach, by focusing “on issues where computer security intersects public life and human life.”

The group has also advocated for better security over other potential hacker targets, including medical devices, public infrastructure and home electronics. As the growth of the Internet of Things has shown, computer security now intersects public life at nearly every turn!

One proposal put forth by I Am The Cavalry for defending against cyberattacks is the concept of “safety by design” – essentially, that vehicle computer systems are segmented and isolated, so that a problem with one does not impact the performance of another.

Sound familiar? It’s similar to the concept of defense in-depth, which uses redundancy to create a comprehensive, multi-tiered security infrastructure. One of the first steps enterprises should take in building this infrastructure to prevent connected devices from breaching corporate networks is implement a centrally managed VPN.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a VPN to secure a connected car, an employee’s phone or tablet, a smart sensor or some other Internet of Things device that relies on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, the connection needs to be secure before a device accesses the internet or a corporate network and begins transmitting sensitive information.

What’s most important is that our collective ambition to improve technology isn’t surpassed by our ability to keep up with necessary cybersecurity mechanisms. In the case of connected cars, it’s probably best that we all “tap the brakes” and consider the security apparatuses that need to be in place before these next generation vehicles are on every highway in the country.


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