What is happening in the world of connected cars?

The automotive industry is living a “smart” revolution and becoming part of the ever growing Internet of Things.

Maria, talks about what has changed in the past few years in the automotive industry and the car connectivity,  what are the most important security issues faced today and what can be done to mitigate these risks.

What are the major changes in the automotive industry in the past few years?

One of the “smart changes” of last years is smart cars. Even if smart cars are generally understood to be autonomous vehicles, they can also include routine enhancements in order to enhance the user safety and the driving experience. During  the past few years more and more offers are integrated into smart cars, such as smart lock/unlock and start/stop, GPS, access to remote services for diagnosis, connectivity with smart objects such as smartphones, driving assistance (parking), emergency brakes, etc. Other use cases include real-time fleet management, including providing hints to other actors interested in these technologies; for example driving habits that could be voluntarily shared with insurance companies to fine-tune insurance policies.

Nowadays cars offer also connectivity with other vehicles (V2V-Vehicle to Vehicle) and/or connectivity with their users, infotainment and telematics services, such as collection and transmission of real-time data for maintenance requirements, use of telecommunications and informatics for controlling vehicles on the move, location of stolen vehicle using GPS. The later services are part of what we call V2I – Vehicle to Infrastructure.

During V2X communications, sensitive information is exchanged, such as car’s position, driver’s data etc. The integrity of this data has to be protected, Protecting driver’s privacy is also very important in order to avoid intentional damages or thefts in the future.

What do we mean by V2V? V2X or (V2I)?

V2V – Vehicle to Vehicle-, or C2C – Car to Car- communication allows cars (or vehicles) to “talk each other”, while V2I -Vehicle to Infrastructure- allows communication between the vehicle and an infrastructure.

V2V is intended to improve driver safety by keeping cars connected (while maintaining speed and distance), whereas V2I aims not only the security of certain infrastructure or services (traffic lights, pollution levels, accidents, emergency services etc.), but also helps manage the traffic flow, fuel consumption, parking, WIFI etc. The combination of both technologies (V2V & V2I) is expected to improve road safety and traffic efficiency in the future.  In the V2V concept, two or more vehicles connect automatically and establish a network enabling the sharing of position, speed and direction data. The system collects information and should be able to make automatically or semi-automatically decisions, providing warnings/information and potentially performing actions.

In the V2I configuration, the infrastructure plays the “coordinator” role by gathering global or local information (e.g. on traffic and road conditions) and suggesting or imposing certain behaviors for a group of vehicles. For example, accelerations of vehicles and the safest distances in between these vehicles would be suggested by the infrastructure depending on the traffic conditions, road damages and car accidents in order to optimize overall emissions, fuel consumption etc. Suggestions could be provided to the drivers via wireless connections, road displays etc.

Taking into account the ever growing interconnectivity, what are the most serious security issues facing the automotive industry today?

During V2X communications, sensitive information is exchanged, such as car’s position, driver’s data etc. The integrity of this data has to be protected, especially because this data could be used to trigger warnings and autonomous reactions/decisions in the future. Protecting driver’s privacy is also very important in order to avoid intentional damages or thefts of data/vehicle in the future.

Moreover, most of the collected information is stored in the cloud (meaning the existence of databases have to remain safe even after the vehicle’s lifecycle) and manipulated by mobile applications that have to run in a secure environment on a Smartphone.

Remote monitoring becomes thus possible and authentication an important issue to solve! Strong authentication as well as access control mechanisms should be required for all services.

Last but not least, vehicle systems are themselves very vulnerable. The vehicle systems are part of large sets of networked components, sometimes using protocols that are structurally difficult to secure and often functioning in a heavily-tiered ecosystem where glue code is the norm.

In a nutshell, if not implemented or analyzed correctly, many issues can arise linked to security, safety and privacy issues. This in turn could lead to opening the doors to attackers, who will take advantage of part or the whole amount of exchanged information to take control, not only of the vehicle, but also every application connected to it.

What can manufacturers, third parties and other actors of this ecosystem do to mitigate the risks on the security of their system?

In order to mitigate the risks, the different parties should analyze the security and safety risks of their systems/devices within the ecosystems of smart cars. This first stage is typically conducted by identifying the digital assets and the related threats as well as the level of each threat. Having this in mind is helpful to put in place an action plan in order to counter balance the risks and identify the adequate technologies to make car systems secure.

At Trusted Labs, we accompany our customers at any stage in the process, typically by raising awareness through trainings with experts, or analyzing risks and threats according to international standards such as ISO 27005, TVRA, NIST 800-30.

In an earlier phase, we are also involved in order to help the said parties understand the main applicable software and hardware attacks, as well as to provide security guidelines and recommendations for designing secure systems.

Automotive systems aim to be secure for more than the 15 years to come. Thus, the used cryptographic protocols have to follow international recommendations for this period of time. In order for our customers to provide such evidences to their customers, we propose a review of the design of the cryptographic protocols.

Once the product design is finished, Trusted Labs may contribute to the improvement and testing of the security system/devices of its customers via audits, code reviews and/or penetration testing. These services aim at evaluating the final product/system and ensure our customers that the presence of these products in the market hide no risks for their companies.

Maria Christofi, Security Consultant

After a cursus in Mathematics and Cryptography and a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Versailles, Maria Christofi joined Trusted Labs as a Security Consultant. She is working with clients to identify the security risks for their products and how to better protect them, while accompanying them through a certification process. Always following the state-of-the-art of the new technologies, she also transmits her expertise (via trainings or presentations) in order to help companies to better understand the different security risks introduced with new technologies.