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Symantec Drives Into Automobile Security

Automakers quietly begin testing cybersecurity features for connected cars.

Just shy of a year after the infamous Jeep Cherokee hack by a pair of researchers, the automobile industry is quietly testing cybersecurity features from IoT startups and traditional security companies for its networked vehicles.

Symantec today added what is now its fourth car security product -- an anomaly detection system for automotive vehicles that is based on its existing technology as well as its Internet of Things line, timed with the TU-Automotive connected car conference in Detroit this week. The security vendor also sells Symantec Embedded Security, which includes Critical System Protection, Code Signing, and Managed Public Key Infrastructure for the auto sector.

The new auto security announcement also comes on the same day Symantec is issuing security patches for Symantec Embedded Security: Critical System Protection, its IoT endpoint security product for cars and other consumer products and devices. Symantec’s security updates fix flaws that allow an attacker to attain elevated privileges, cheat security protection, and run malware on agents.

Symantec’s pivot from pure consumer IoT security to the auto industry wasn’t a dramatic shift, and it’s one that several IoT startups are taking as well. It’s obviously a big change from Symantec’s antivirus roots. “We first began adapting security to smart connected things seven  years ago,” says Brian Witten, senior director of IoT security at Symantec.

Symantec’s new Anomaly Detection for Automotive monitors traffic on the vehicle’s Controller Area Network (CAN) bus and flags activity that’s out of the norm. “It can be embedded into the car and run on existing hardware ... it’s using only a small slice of CPU and memory,” Witten says, and the software uses machine learning techniques. He says Symantec is also considering adding managed security services to its menu of car cybersecurity offerings.

Intel also has been focusing on car hacking, with its own security test and audit board.

Witten says Symantec’s IoT security sits in over one billion “things,” and the security company expects to ultimately have embedded security in millions of vehicles per year. “We’ve signed world-leading carmakers,” he says.

But don’t expect to know which ones or even which automakers are embedding what type of security any time soon. Witten, as well as other car security vendors, are under strict non-disclosure about revealing which vehicle makes and models they’re securing, and automakers for the most part have been characteristically mum about their cybersecurity plans.

“They’re nervous about standing out in the crowd,” Witten says of automakers working to shore up their vehicle cybersecurity. “Many are very concerned that if they stick up their hand and say, ‘we are very secure,’ someone might be more eager to step forward” and hack them, he says.

“Right now, there’s no way to know if there’s [cyber] security in cars,” he says.

Connected car security startup Karamba Security this week rolled out Carwall, software that sits in the automobile’s electronic control units (ECUs) that control various functions of the car. It uses whitelists of functions to ferret out and stop any other activity that’s not legitimate, according to David Barzilai, Karamba Security's chairman and co-founder. “Once an operation goes out of factory settings ... and tries to attack, we detect and block it,” he says.

Barzilai says his company is teaming up with five Tier 1 automobile suppliers to test and roll out Carwall, which can also be used to retrofit security in existing vehicles, not just newly manufactured ones.

“Carmakers are very much gearing up and looking at new technologies and talking to security architecture teams and evaluating security solutions. They are taking action,” he says. “But there have been no public car security announcements from carmakers yet.”

A pair of recent studies show that drivers consider it the automakers’ responsibility to shore up cybersecurity in cars: some 90% of drivers said carmakers should be in charge even if the car’s apps were created by a separate software firm. Kelley Blue Book found that 55% of drivers say carmakers should provide security software to protect vehicles. Two-thirds of drivers say carmakers hold some responsibility for car hacks and half say they should provide insurance for car-hacking losses.

What has driven carmakers to finally get serious about securing their car’s software and network connections after for so long ignoring researchers who found flaws, including Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek?

Barzilai attributes the change of heart to both the highly publicized Jeep hack by Miller and Valasek as well as the Senate’s Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY) Act introduced in July of 2015 that tasks the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to create standards for car security and driver privacy. The Act also calls for a rating system that consumers can check for a car’s security and privacy.

Gartner estimates that by 2020, some 250 million connected cars will be on the roads.

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