New technologies to make networked cars safer

Posted on 30 Jun 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

Last week General Motors announced plans to begin testing a new system built by Cisco which would enable its cars to communicate with each other on the road.

Using radio communications and roadside WiFi stations, cars with this technology would share information about their relative position, speed, heading and braking status and would warn drivers of possible risks.

GM is working to test this kind of vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication technology as soon as possible, before deploying it in its 2017 Cadillac VTS sedan.

GM is just one of many companies that are making rapid headway into V2V communication technology, which will likely be commonplace in new cars 5 to 10 years from now.

Security problems

The issue with this proliferation of networked cars is that the risk of cyber attacks is significantly increased.

Such attacks could come in a wide variety of forms, all taking advantage of the fact that cars would be constantly ‘listening’ for the signals of others. Due to the interconnected nature of such a system, a single incorrect signal could cause widescale disruption, and pose a safety risk to drivers.

One proposed solution to this is the use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to encrypt all of the V2V data.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a group of eight major car makers, including industry heavyweights like Ford, GM, Nissan and Volkswagen, are already working to build such a system.

However PKI encryption is by no means unbreakable. Last year’s ‘Heartbleed’ bug which affected PKI showed that even encryption which was theoretically unbreakable could still be compromised by poorly written code.

With this in mind, other security firms are taking a different approach. Mission Secure Inc. (MSI), a defence-focused secure electronics manufacturer has been working on a product they call the Secure Sentinel.

Designed for military drone aircraft, this platform can monitor a system, detect and inform on threats, and also automatically correct a computer’s actions to mitigate cyber attacks.

Earlier this month, MSI tested this platform embedded within an autonomous car, showing that it could easily combat a number of cyber attacks aimed at confusing the car’s navigation system.

Into the future, a more civilian-focused version of this technology could find itself in use as a backup to encryption and other security approaches in networked cars.