'When you think of cybersecurity, cars may not immediately spring to mind. However, as the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover Ralf Speth said, automotive cybersecurity is one of the biggest challenges in a connected world, and “as fundamental to your safety as the brakes."
Today’s cars are packed with electronic control units, delivering mobility services, infotainment, remote unlocking, constant over-the-air software updates — and there are multiple connectivity ports like Bluetooth and WiFi through which to hack them.
Vehicles are only going to get more complex too, as we move towards autonomous driving and full Internet of Things (IOT) connectivity. A modern car contains about 100 million lines of software code, and is expected to have around 300 million lines of code by 2030. For comparison, a passenger plane has around 15 million.
Just take a look at how carmakers are wheeling out their new lines. For example, China’s Byton has designed its battery-electric M-Byte on the idea of being a smartphone vehicle on wheels.
Moshe Schlisel, co-founder and chief executive of Israeli cybersecurity startup GuardKnox, has likened cybersecurity in today’s cars to that in a 1980s computer.
“Right now, there are millions around the world that are connected and are not secured, you have computers on wheels that are going around carrying people without the relevant safety measures,” Schlisel said.
If someone is able to hack the car’s IP “out of mischief or just for fun” then they can simply take control of the vehicle and stop it or steer it off the road, according to the former Israeli Airforce Special Ops veteran.
Fleets present an even bigger challenge, as they are mostly the same vehicles with the same computer systems, all connected to the operations HQ. “So if I hack one, I hack all of them, and all of a sudden I can take control of the entire fleet,” Schlisel said. “If, for example, a whole DB Schenker, DHL, or FedEx fleet is shut down by a hack, then it is not just a logistics disruption, but a risk to the economy.”
Automotive cyberhacks could even pose a “national infrastructure risk,” he said. If electric-connected vehicles are plugged into the grid to charge and the connection between the car and the charging station is not secured, then a hacker could access the grid and cause all sorts of mayhem.
Despite the rush to catch up with security solutions, vehicle hacks are inevitable, Schlisel believes. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when… for sure it will happen” he said. “I would say that it already did because no-one has any interest in revealing that it has happened, not the car manufacturer, not the hacker, not the person who was hacked.”
Read more: Cars with 100 million lines of software code while a passenger plane has 15 million
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