Connected Vehicle: Security First

The recently discovered remote hack vulnerability of Fiat Chrysler Jeep cars, based on their Uconnect functionality, puts a spotlight on the miserable state of connected vehicle security these days. Another recently published article in a German newspaper not only identified a gap in functionality but also illustrates on how in particular German automotive vendors and suppliers implement (or plan to implement) security in their connected vehicles.

While the U.S. has introduced the Spy Car Act (Security and Privacy in Your Car Act) which is about defining industrywide benchmarks and standards for security and privacy in connected vehicles and forces the industry to collaborate, similar legislation is still lacking in the EU.

The automotive industry currently is in a rush to roll out new smart and digital features (or whatever they perceive as being smart), emulating many other industries facing the need for joining the Digital Transformation. Unfortunately, security is an afterthought, as recent incidents as well as the current trends within the industry indicate.

Ironically, the lack of well thought-out security and privacy features is already becoming an inhibitor for the industry. While the cost of sending out USB sticks with a patch is still considerably low (and the approach is impressively insecure), the cost of calling back 1.4 million cars to the garages is significant, even without speaking of the indirect cost of reputation loss or, if something really goes wrong, the liability issues.

But that is only one part of the problem. The lack of Security by Design and Privacy by Design is also becoming an inhibitor for the Digital Transformation. An essential element of the Digital Transformation is the change of business models, including rapid innovation and (ever-changing) partnerships.

A simple example that illustrates the limitations caused by the lack of security and privacy by design is the black box EDR (Event Data Recorder) becoming increasingly common an increasingly mandatory by legislation. Both automotive vendors and insurance companies are interested in “owning” the data held in such devices. While I come to the complexity of dealing with data access demands and requirements of various parties later in this post, it is obviously impossible to easily solve this conflict with technology that e.g. relies only on a single key for accessing that data. Modern concepts for security and privacy would minimize such conflicts by allowing various parties to have defined and controlled access to information they are entitled to access.

Cynically said: automotive vendors are rushing to roll out new features to succeed in the Digital Transformation, but by failing to do it right, with Security by Design and Privacy by Design, they are struggling with exactly the same transformation. Neither security nor privacy can be an afterthought for succeeding in the Digital Transformation.

From my perspective, there are five essentials the automotive industry must follow to succeed with both the connected vehicle and, in its concept, the Digital Transformation:

  1. Security by Design and Privacy by Design must become essential principles that any developer follows. A well-designed system can be opened up, but a weakly designed system never can be shut down. Simply said: security and privacy by design are not inhibitors, but enablers, because these allow flexible configuration of the vehicles for ever-changing business models and regulations.
  2. Modern hardened implementations of technology are required. Relying on a single key for accessing information of a component in the vehicle or other security concepts dating back decades aren’t adequate anymore for today’s requirements.
  3. Identities and Access Control must become key elements in these new security concepts. Just look at the many things, organizations, and humans around the connected vehicle. There are entertainment systems, engine control, EDR systems, gear control, and many other components. There is the manufacturer, the leasing company, the police in various countries, the insurance company, the garage, the dealer, and many other organizations. There is the driver, the co-driver, the passengers, the owner, etc. Various parties might access some information in certain systems, but might not be entitled to do so in others. Some might only see parts of the EDR data at all times, while others might be entitled to see all of that information after specific incidents. Without a concept of identities, their relations, and for managing their access, e.g. for security and privacy by design, there are too many inhibitors for supporting change in business models and regulations. From my perspective, it is worth spending some time and thoughts in looking at the concept of Life Management Platforms in that context. These concepts and standards such as UMA (User Managed Access) are the foundation for better, future-proof security in connected vehicles.
  4. Standards are another obvious element. It is ridiculous assuming that such complex ecosystems with manufacturers, suppliers, governmental agencies, customers, consumers, etc. can be supported with proprietary concepts.
  5. Finally, it is about solving the patch and update issues. Providing updates by USB stick is as inept as calling back the cars to the garages every “patch Tuesday”. There is a need for a secure approach for regular as well as emergency patches and updates, which most become part of the concept. Again, there is a need for standards, given the fact that every car today consists of (connected) components from a number of suppliers.

Notably, all these points apply to virtually all other areas of IoT (Internet of Things) and Smart Manufacturing. Security must not be an afterthought anymore. The risk for all of us is far too high – and, as mentioned above, done right, security and privacy by design enable rapidly switching to new business models and complying with new regulations, while old school “security” approaches don’t.



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