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Five Totally Believable Things Car Makers Must Do To Thwart Hackers

Read the open letter from security pressure group

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Car manufacturers are urged to implement a five-step program to improve their motors' computer security defenses.

Today's rides are PCs on wheels and thus vulnerable to all sorts of potential hacks – such as the ones documented by Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek in their paper A Survey of Remote Automotive Attack Surfaces, here. The researchers concluded in their talk at last week's Black Hat USA that while it's possible to remotely access – and in some cases take limited control of a vehicle – the process is difficult in practice and very much dependent on the model targeted.

A timeline of automobile computer security research put together by the I Am The Cavalry pressure group illustrates a history of car security flaws dating back to 2002, as the group explains:

Our cars are incorporating digital technologies and ubiquitous communication for both safety and convenience. Automatic parking assist, adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance, stolen vehicle shutdown, remote emergency response and other features make driving easier and safer. Capabilities like these can malfunction or be abused, potentially subverting driver control or monitor location and conversations.

Josh Corman, CTO of Sonatype and a co-founder of I am the Cavalry, has written an open letter [PDF] to car makers urging them to "acknowledge that vehicle safety issues can be caused by cybersecurity issues" and partner with security researchers in tackling the problem:

A hallmark of the automotive industry is extraordinary innovation in the face of market needs. 50 years ago, basic automotive safety features were an afterthought. Since then, the auto industry has steadily driven advances in safety features, safety engineering, and supply chain management in ways that software and cyber security disciplines must emulate.

Now the automotive industry faces a new challenge. Modern vehicles are computers on wheels and are increasingly connected and controlled by software and embedded devices. These new technologies enable innovations designed to increase vehicle safety and bring other positive features. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication, driverless cars, automated traffic flow, and remote control functions are just a few of the evolutions under active development.

New technology introduces new classes of accidents and adversaries that must be anticipated and addressed proactively. Malicious attackers, software flaws, and privacy concerns are the potential unintended consequences of computer technologies driving this latest round of innovation. The once distinct worlds of automobiles and cyber security have collided. In kind, now is the time for the automotive industry and the security community to connect and collaborate toward our common goals.

Automakers are asked to sign up to a Five Star Automotive Cyber Safety Program for improved security, summarized below:

  1. Safety by Design (car makers should develop a secure software development lifecycle, summarizing design, development, and adversarial resilience testing programs)
  2. Third Party Collaboration (setup coordinated disclosure policy inviting the assistance of third-party researchers)
  3. Evidence Capture (vehicle systems provide tamper evident, forensically-sound logging and evidence capture to allow safety investigations)
  4. Security Updates (can vehicles be securely updated in a prompt and agile manner?)
  5. Segmentation and isolation (physical and logical isolation measures to separate critical systems from non-critical systems?

Interested parties can sign a petition on change.org backing the safety program. The petition, launched during the Defcon hacker convention in Las Vegas and still open, calls on car makers and security researchers to collaborate. ®

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