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Securing your car from cyberattacks is becoming a big business

Lucas Mearian | June 10, 2016
Last year, the auto industry got a warning shot when a Jeep Cherokee was remotely hacked and controlled.

A modern car has dozens of computers with as much as 100 million lines of code -- and for every 1,000 lines there are as many as 15 bugs that are potential doors for would-be hackers.

With vehicles becoming more automated and connected to the internet, to other cars and even roadway infrastructure, the number of potential intrusion points is growing  exponentially, according to Navigant Research.

While cybersecurity became a top priority for carmakers after a 2015 Jeep Cherokee was hacked last year, the lead time for developing a new car is three to five years and with a service life of 20 years or more, most vehicles have systems that bare vastly outdated compared to the latest consumer electronics devices.

That's creating what researchers expect to be an enormous market for vehicle anti-malware and secure hardware.

With the largest U.S. automotive telematics conference taking place this week - TU-Automotive Detroit -- traditional software companies and start-ups alike are announcing new vehicle security products. Announcements have come from  Symantec, Savari and Karamba Security.

"Every new vehicle today...has at least some degree of automation capability," said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst with Navigant Research. "Essentially, every vehicle on the road is going to need some aspect of cyber security built into it."

Cybersecurity has many flavors

Abuelsamid, who co-authored a recent report on automotive cybersecurity, said a flurry of companies have sprung up in Israel, including Argus Cyber Security and TowerSec. But not every company is taking the same approach to securing vehicles.

For example, Argus offers an intrusion detection and prevention module that ties into a vehicle's controller area network (CAN), which connects the various electronic control units (ECUs) or computers in a car. TowerSec offers software that is embedded in existing ECUs. Karamba's software is made to be integrated as part of a vehicle's original factory setting and is aimed at creating firewalls between ECUs controlling infotainment, telematics and OBD (on-board diagnostics).

With the exception of Karamba's software, "what they're all doing is heuristic scanning of the vehicle's data traffic...rather than the traditional anti-virus approach, where its looking for virus signatures," Abuelsamid said.

By definition, heuristic-pattern software is not perfect in that it doesn't block malware directly; it watches a vehicle's computer network for any unusual messages or code that shouldn't be there. It then mitigates the infection by keeping it from spreading or executing critical system commands, such as making a car swerve or brake.

"It's a more robust approach rather than trying to find traditional anti-virus signatures because it doesn't rely on having constant updates. It is trying to discover malware-like activity before it has a chance to infect," Abuelsamid said.

 

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