Top ten security challenges for connected cars

September 19, 2019 // By Ben Cade
The global market for connected cars is forecast to grow significantly over the next few years as innovations in connectivity transform the automotive industry.

The benefits to consumers are numerous: connectivity offers drivers everything from high definition streaming media, Wi-Fi access, improved entertainment systems, to the ability to remotely control aspects of the vehicle using mobile phone applications, such as the locking/unlocking and ignition mechanisms.

However, as with any other device that connects to the internet, there is a potential risk to automotive security from cyber-criminals. Security breaches can result in leaked personal data, threats to a vehicle’s essential security and safety mechanisms and, in extreme cases, full remote control of the car. And, as the industry moves towards more autonomous vehicles, these risks are only set to increase due to reliance on applications, connectivity and more complex and integrated electronic components.

Failure to address these risks could have a catastrophic effect on consumer confidence, privacy, brand reputation, and most importantly, customer safety.

What are the top 10 security risks for connected cars?

1.       Theft of personal data: As the number of sensors in vehicles increase rapidly, there is the potential for hackers to steal personally-identifiable information (PII) from the vehicle’s systems, such as personal trip and location data, entertainment preferences and even financial information.

2.       Vehicle theft: As digital keys, wireless key fobs and mobile applications replace traditional physical car keys, car thieves can gain unauthorized entry to the vehicle. This can be done by intercepting communication between a smartphone or wireless key fob and the vehicle, using devices that extend the range of the wireless signal and emulate the wireless key to access a vehicle using the owner’s own wireless key fob, if the owner is still near their vehicle. Managing virtual car keys can be as difficult as managing physical keys, if not carried out correctly. Enrollment of a key, validation of an ‘unlock’ attempt and, most importantly, revocation, must all be handled securely.

3.       Connection risks: Cyber criminals can exploit flaws in a vendor’s implementation. Given that security has sometimes been an afterthought for connected cars and their components, this creates an easy target for hackers exploiting vulnerabilities using cellular networks, Wi-Fi, and physical connections. Furthermore, connected vehicles need to be able to trust, and be trusted by, the components and service(s) that they connect to.

4.       Manipulation of safety-critical systems: There is the potential for hackers to take control of safety-critical aspects of a vehicle’s operation - for example, by compromising the cruise control system to manipulate steering and braking.

5.       Mobile application security vulnerabilities: As more mobile apps are released by manufacturers for communicating with vehicles, the more these become a target for bad actors. For example, in the case of the Nissan Leaf, security testers demonstrated how they could gain unauthorized access to control the heated steering wheel, seats, fans and aircon remotely. In an electric vehicle, this can drain the battery and render it immobile. According to Gartner, 75% of mobile applications fail basic security tests. The number of security vulnerabilities in the Android and iOS mobile operating systems are also a source of concern.

6.       Lack of “designed-in” security: The automotive industry has little historical experience of dealing with cybersecurity risks and this has become evident from the lack of security built into many of the software and hardware components in the first generations of connected cars. Furthermore, there appears to be a lack of adequate education about secure coding practices and rigorous security testing, much of which takes place too late in the product development life-cycle. And, to cut component costs, some safety-critical and non-safety-critical functions may share resources (processor cores, physical connectivity or internet access). Designing from the ground up, from the perspective of a hostile environment, is the only way to build “Secure by Design” systems that will be robust in the long term.

7.       Security vulnerabilities in the complex supply chain: Automotive manufacturers rely heavily upon third party vendors to supply systems, software and hardware components for their vehicles. However, unless auto manufacturers impose rigorous cyber-security requirements on their tier 1 and 2 suppliers, they run the risk of introducing security vulnerabilities via these components. Counterfeit components can also enter the supply chain, threatening safety by reducing wear ratings, overriding safety limits etc. Any component responsible for primary activities, such as braking, clearly needs to meet the highest standards of security.

8.       Failure to keep up with the latest security patches and updates: As new threats and attacks are discovered, the only effective solution is to ensure that the platforms can be easily and securely updated once deployed into the field. Many of these updates are delivered through supplied software, components and systems which rely upon wireless communications networks connected to personal computing devices, with their own inherent security challenges.

9.       Inadequate key management processes: Although most automotive manufacturers use key management systems for the management of cryptographic keys, some still use a manual process, limiting their usefulness and hampering security.

10.   In Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) vulnerabilities: Innovations in vehicle entertainment systems – everything from satnav to high-definition streaming media – bring benefits to drivers, but these platforms increasingly provide services that make use of sensitive data and are security-critical to vehicles and end-users. Both Android and Apple offer infotainment systems and vehicle-centric app stores, and there are opportunities for combining applications like payment and social networking with more vehicle-centric needs, such as tolls, parking and journey planning. Linking these worlds introduces new possibilities, but it also brings with it the threat that app-centric malware could attack the automotive platform.

The industry’s rapid transformation towards autonomous, connected, electric and shared (ACES) mobility, and the rise of high-bandwidth 5G connectivity, is enabling auto makers to deliver new in-vehicle services and rich content. These increasingly sophisticated digital cockpit systems will bring new, personalized digital experiences for drivers and passengers – but also create security and content-protection challenges that must be addressed with proven trust. With cars having such long life-cycles compared to other smart devices, innovative OEMs and Tier 1 vendors must build connected car architectures with long-term security at their core.

About the author:

Ben Cade, is CEO at Trustonic -

Design category: 

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