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Ways to secure the connected car

Posted: 23 Oct 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IP address  DARPA  CAN 2.0  ECUs  testing 

The high-profile hack of a Jeep Cherokee by security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek got the automotive industry quite occupied. Miller and Valasek exploited a weakness in Fiat Chrysler's UConnect system that allowed hackers who know a vehicle's IP address to remotely control the vehicle – including disabling the brakes, disengaging the transmission and more.

The vehicle, driven by a reporter covering the hack, wound up in a ditch. The day the story broke, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles, all of which require a software update through a physical connection – either a USB stick or dealership OBD-II equipment.

Another connected car take-over by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), demonstrated on an episode of 60 Minutes, led to a scathing US Senate report issued by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) last February. Based on surveys sent to major automakers, Markey's study found that, while automakers had fully embraced car connectivity, they had not fully addressed the security or privacy issues raised by these vehicles.

Markey and fellow Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) jointly introduced legislation called the "Security and Privacy in Your Car Act" (SPY Car Act) on the same day the Jeep hack was announced. This bill would require the US National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish Federal standards for vehicles that protect driver safety and privacy.

You don't have to be DARPA
It turns out you do not need lots of smart engineers and a limitless budget like DARPA to hack the connected car. Last summer, a 14-year-old student stunned auto executives by hacking a connected car with only a couple of days training, $15 in Radio Shack components, and a soldering iron at the Batelle AutoCyber Challenge.

While the kid's hack did not penetrate the car's drivetrain, it was still an impressive demonstration not only of young talent but also how far connected car systems have to go to catch up with the technological sophistication of the systems with which they interface – and the threats those systems expose.

How did the connected car get so insecure?
When it comes to connecting cars to outside networks, the automotive industry is playing significant catch-up. While cars have evolved over 100 years and the Internet over 25-45, depending on when you drop the flag, cars are relatively new as digital devices. Digital controls started replacing analog ones for essential onboard systems in the 1970's, but onboard vehicle networking did not stabilize until Bosch freely released the first commercial automotive controller area networks (CAN) standard in 1986. CAN protocols are embodied in the International Standards Organization's (ISO's) 11898 standard, which covers device identification plus physical and datalink layer protocols.

The latest version is CAN 2.0, which was published in 1991. Note that this is two full years before GM released the first externally networked connected car service: OnStar. CAN 2.0 and all its preceding generations were designed as an internal network that is physically interfaced from time to time exclusively with trusted sources. Security considerations related to connecting this network to the outside world are simply not reflected in the standard.

Hence, connected car security needs to be applied through add-on applications and services which operate in parallel to and in a manner compatible with an existing vehicle's CAN controller. Movimento's recently released Over-The-Air (OTA) platform for the Software Defined Car is one example of an automobile security service.

Based on Movimento's decades of experience programming and reflashing cars and components for many automakers and Tier 1 suppliers, here are five best practices to keep in mind when securing the connected car.

1. Encrypt car's wide area network communications
Encrypting network communications has long been a method to protect against data theft and guarantee confidentiality, and yet only in February of this year BMW pushed an OTA software update to 2.2 million BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce cars equipped with their ConnectedDrive system to implement encryption for car communications.

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