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Holistic, cross-disciplinary approach to cybersecurity needed, says security specialist

In a statement issued in partnership with the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US, the FBI has warned that vehicles are “increasingly vulnerable to remote exploits”.

It added: “Modern motor vehicles often include new connected vehicle technologies that aim to provide benefits such as added safety features, improved fuel economy, and greater overall convenience. Aftermarket devices are also providing consumers with new features to monitor the status of their vehicles. However, with this increased connectivity, it is important that consumers and manufacturers maintain awareness of potential cyber security threats.”

Advice given to reduce the risk of cyberhacking includes:

  • Making sure vehicle software is up to date
  • Be careful when making any modifications to vehicle software
  • Maintain awareness and exercise discretion when connecting third-party devices to the vehicle
  • Be aware of who has physical access to the vehicle

Recommendations given to drivers in the US who believe their vehicle may have been hacked include checking for outstanding vehicle recalls or vehicle software updates, contacting the vehicle manufacturer or authorised dealer and contacting the NHTSA as well as the FBI.

The announcement comes less than a year after security researchers remotely hacked into a Jeep Cherokee to show the risks and follows last month’s news that Nissan's LEAF cars can be easily hacked, allowing their heating and air-conditioning systems to be hijacked.

In response, Lane Thames, software development engineer and security researcher at security specialist Tripwire, said: “We have seen drastic changes within the technology landscape over the last few years. Moore's law has enabled us to create very powerful computing platforms, ranging from the smallest embedded system to the largest of supercomputers. Simultaneously, the laws of economics have enabled these devices to be readily available to the masses in terms of costs. Finally, we have ubiquitous, high-speed access to the Internet. Put this all together and we have what is currently called the Internet of Things (IoT).

“As we can see, automobiles are rapidly becoming a part of the IoT. Unfortunately, the security industry is seeing IoT devices of all types come online with very weak and, in some cases, non-existent security features. There are various reasons for this. Building highly secure systems is hard and sometimes costly. This conflicts with manufacturers who want to deliver their products to market fast.

“Another reason is actually due to how the computing ecosystem is moving from a mostly “virtual” environment to a merged world where virtual things are interacting and controlling things in the world around us. Particularly, the IoT includes devices that are cyber-physical. A modern, Internet-connected car is a perfect example of a cyber-physical system. It is a thing that used to be based on pure physics, comprised of mechanical, electrical, and chemical systems. Now, these systems are controlled by onboard computers, and it might not be long before remote computer systems play a role in automotive control, especially with these systems being rapidly connected to the Internet.

“The point I'm trying to make here is that future technology (regardless of what we name it, i.e., IoT, etc.) will demand an holistic, cross-disciplinary approach for the design and implementation of cybersecurity and its interconnection with technology. This by and large does not exist today. Until this starts to happen, we will continue to hear about more and more technologies coming online and eventually becoming vulnerable to remote exploits.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.