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How to build trust into a connected car

Not a connected car.Nobody wants bad guys to be able to hack connected cars. Equally importantly, they shouldn’t be able to hack any part of the multi-step communications path that lead from the connected car to the Internet to cloud services – and back again. Fortunately, companies are working across the automotive and security industries to make sure that does happen.

The consequences of cyberattacks against cars range from the bad to the horrific: Hackers might be able to determine that a driver is not home, and sell that information to robbers. Hackers could access accounts and passwords, and be able to leverage that information for identity theft, or steal information from bank accounts. Hackers might be able to immobilize vehicles, or modify/degrade the functionality of key safety features like brakes or steering. Hackers might even be able to seize control of the vehicle, and cause accidents or terrorist incidents.

Horrific. Thankfully, companies like semiconductor leader Micron Technology, along with communication security experts NetFoundry, have a plan – and are partnering with vehicle manufacturers to embed secure, trustworthy hardware into connected cars. The result: Safety. Security. Trust. Vroom.

It Starts with the Internet of Things

The IoT consists of autonomous computing units, connected to back-end services via the Internet. Those back-end services are often in the cloud, and in the case of connected cars, might offer anything from navigation to infotainment to preventive maintenance to firmware upgrades for build-in automotive features. Often, the back-end services would be offered through the automobile’s manufacturer, though they may be provisioned through third-party providers.

The communications chain for connected cars is lengthy. On the car side, it begins with an embedded component (think stereo head unit, predictive front-facing radar used for adaptive cruise control, or anti-lock brake monitoring system). The component will likely contain or be connected to a ECU – an embedded control unit, a circuit board with a microprocessor, firmware, RAM, and a network connection. The ECU, in turn, is connected via an in-vehicle network, which connected to a communications gateway.

That communications gateway talks to a telecommunications provider, which could change as the vehicle crosses service provider or national boundaries. The telco links to the Internet, the Internet links to a cloud provider (such as Amazon Web Services), and from there, there are services that talk to the automotive systems.

Trust is required at all stages of the communications. The vehicle must be certain that its embedded devices, ECUs, and firmware are not corrupted or hacked. The gateway needs to know that it’s talking to the real car and its embedded systems – not fakes or duplicates offered by hackers. It also needs to know that the cloud services are the genuine article, and not fakes. And of course, the cloud services must be assured that they are talking to the real, authenticated automotive gateway and in-vehicle components.

Read more about this in my feature for Business Continuity, “Building Cybertrust into the Connected Car.”

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