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Automakers In The Hotseat For Vehicle Cybersecurity

Car cybersecurity one to three years behind threats, as drivers look to automakers to secure vehicles from hacking.

As new-model vehicles increasingly come equipped with third-party applications and Internet connectivity, the majority of consumers say the car manufacturers are liable for the safety and security of their cars.

A pair of separate studies released last week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco shed light on the escalating pressures on automakers to address cybesecurity of their vehicles – even though many of the new software and connectivity features come from their third-party suppliers and cellular providers.

Nearly 90% of drivers in an IDC and Veracode study said car manufacturers should be responsible for locking down the cybersecurity and related safety issues of the vehicles, even if the car’s apps were created by a separate software company.

Kelley Blue Book found in its survey that more than 55% of drivers consider carmakers responsible for providing security software to protect cars from being hacked, and 44% say carmakers hold the most responsibility for securing a car, while two-thirds believe carmakers are partially responsible for car hacks. Half of consumers say carmakers should provide insurance for car-hacking losses.

“Whenever you have a supply chain and the more complicated it is, and the more individual pieces it has, the more difficult it is to do security,” says Chris Wysopal, CTO and co-founder of Veracode. “There are so many different parties involved: infotainment, connectivity, and they’re going with someone else to do the OS, like Apple Car Play, for example. Ford and Toyota are going with their own OSes. Who’s building the apps? [Likely] a third party.”

Wyospal says the software security issues with a traditional complex enterprise supply chain is challenging enough. This model for car comes with physical safety ramifications as well.

“Why the stakes are higher, and we should not replicate all [that was] done with enterprise security,” he says.

IDC and Veracode also surveyed and interviewed Bosh, Delphi, Fiat-Chrysler, Scania, Seat, and ADAC, Germany’s automotive industry association. The European carmakers say it will take one to three years for them to catch up with cybersecurity threats, and they all say they are concerned about the security of their “critical systems” amid the emergence of third-party apps in the car. Their worry is that vehicle safety would be out of the manufacturer’s control with these apps in play.

Veracode’s Wysopal thinks one year may be too optimistic, given the complicated mesh of suppliers for connected cars. And even the conventional wisdom calling for the car’s features to run on a different and air gapped network from the infotainment system and apps isn’t realistic today. “The software is intermingled” via the same user interface as car features, he says. “An airgap isn’t going to work. So you have to think: is there a certain class of app that gets more rigorous testing, is certified” and can’t communicate directly with the car’s performance systems. This needs to be thought through.”

The IDC-Veracode report points to how Tesla allows Internet-based software updates to its performance elements of the vehicle rather than updating software when the driver takes his vehicle in for maintenance.

Traditional automakers also are starting to beef up their cybersecurity profiles. General Motors now has a bug bounty program underway as well as a product security officer position. “Those all seem like steps in the right direction, that they get it: they are becoming a software company,” Wysopal says. “Security and software are coming to their business and they have to organize that way.”

“For at least three years they are going to have to deal with in-bound vulns at a rate higher than today and have to respond to them,” says Wysopal.

“Manufacturers cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to application and overall system security within vehicles,” said Duncan Brown, research director at IDC’s European Security Practice. “Manufacturers should increase their focus on how to secure applications that enhance car functionality, such as the many driving aids currently being developed.”

Millennials, meanwhile, are less likely to consider car hacking a big problem: about half say it will be a frequent issue in the next three years, while 70% of all respondents say so.


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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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