Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cyber Security Car Talk


Though I'm writing you from the land of Click and Clack, this piece is about a topic you'll probably not hear covered on their show. CNET journalist Elinor Mills, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the first Smart Grid Cyber Security Summit in San Jose in August, recently keyed: "Cars, the next hacking frontier." And as electric cars (and cars in general) have been on my mind lately, this really caught my eye.

As we've noted in previous posts, there are some surprising similarities in the ways previously isolated systems are being (often wirelessly) connected in the electric and automotive sectors. For most consumers, computers + code + communications = fun. But for security watchdogs, these same elements = trouble. And ultimately, cars and the grid will marry (and their coupling will produce precocious new security challenges) in a space industry calls V2G - meaning Vehicle-to-Grid.

Elinor links to an earlier CNET article of hers, "Hacking a Car", in which Stefan Savage of UC San Diego invokes history to make the connection:
If you look at PCs in the early 1990s, they had all kinds of latent software vulnerabilities. It didn't matter so much because PCs were at home and not connected to everything else. Then they were connected to the Internet and the latent vulnerabilities were exposed to outside attack. We see cars moving in much the same direction. There is a strong trend to provide pervasive connectivity in cars going forward. It would be good to start working on hardening these systems and providing defenses before it becomes a real problem.
And so it begins. I've begun research for a white paper on vehicle and V2G cyber security which I will try to have ready in early 2011, if not before 2010 is through. What's the motivation?  Here's how one gloomy CNET commenter cast it:
Someday the cyber terrorists will strike, locking everyone into their cars and disabling the engines, thus ensuring a swift and bloodless invasion of the United States. Then it will be up to the Amish to defend the country. We is doomed ..." 
I beg to disagree on three counts:
  1. The Amish are tougher than you think.  See this short clip on Amish Rake Fighting
  2. Bikers are even tougher than the Amish, and they won't be locked out
  3. We're going to figure the security angles out up front and make sure cars remain as safe or safer than they are today -- though I'm not sure how safe that is
Photo credit: TechnaBob.com

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