March 26, 2019

Connected and driverless cars have tremendous potential to improve our lives. But their ascendancy, while rapid at times, has been slowed by security issues stemming from their wireless nature.

With so much data being generated (up to 25GB of data every hour) through the car’s operation, and the wireless transfer of much of it, figuring out how to ensure a secure experience has become the focus of a significant amount of research.

The IEEE Cybersecurity Initiative shared insights of IEEE Fellow Christof Paar, a research expert in applied cryptography, on how it might be used to secure automotive applications.

To Paar, “Cryptography is ideal for what’s called V2X communications, where a vehicle interacts with other vehicles (V2V) or with roadside infrastructure (V2I).” It’s these communications that are essential to the autonomous functioning of the vehicle.

“Cryptography supports the authentication that allows these applications to trust one another, which obviously is key because they involve human lives in tons of metal moving at high speeds,” he says.

An example? “Ensuring that a vehicle’s real-time location information has not been manipulated. Without cryptography, it’s possible that a hacker could send fake message that could cause, for instance, accidents by triggering automatic braking at high speeds.”

The exact communication protocol for V2X communications is still somewhat up in the air. 5G is a front runner along with Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), though neither is immune from security concerns.

According to Cyro Vicente Boccuzzi, IEEE Senior Member, CEO and President of the Latin American Smart Grid Forum and Exhibition (a conference that brings together stakeholders to discuss emerging technologies) “5G will allow better security protections as it will bring new services and features related to the road, infrastructure and environment, but at the same time it opens opportunities for spoofing and other kinds of hacking that may endanger the occupants.”

While hacking represents a major threat to connected vehicles, there are also other emerging security challenges that focus more on the security of the vehicle itself.

Earlier this year, in an unexpected twist, a car’s lidar damaged the sensor of an electronic camera, raising the question of whether autonomous vehicles might inadvertently blind each other. While the laser component of lidar is considered safe for human eyes, if cars’ video cameras get damaged, they could lose access to the fundamental information they need to operate.

The physical safety of the ride in relation to the surrounding environment is also a question. An initial rollout of self-driving cars has taken so long because they’re undergoing extreme testing to make sure they’re verified to be safe for all locations in all weather conditions, according to engineers working on the software.

Srikanth Saripalli, IEEE Senior Member, associate professor at Texas A&M University, agrees on being patient when it comes to a rollout: “While connectivity enables cars to work seamlessly, aid traffic flow and make transportation easier, security should be considered as a first-class citizen and be well thought through before enabling connectedness.”

In the end, it’s clear that security cannot be an afterthought when it comes to connected cars. They need to be baked into the entire engineering process.


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