The Growing Importance of Cybersecurity in the Auto Industry

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Does the thought of driverless cars seem a bit eerie? Are you ready to turn over the steering wheel and let a computer decide whether the light was too close to red, or if it’s better to swerve or brake hard to avoid rear-ending someone? The lack of control in a driverless car may give you pause, but what if your driverless car was being controlled by another human? The need for cybersecurity in the auto industry is on the rise, as cars become mobile computers with the risk of hackers taking over the controls.

If someone were to hack into your laptop it would be distressing, but it would be rare for it to be a life-and-death scenario when you are hit with a virus. When it’s a hacker getting into the computer of your car, that’s a different story. There are a variety of reasons why cybersecurity in the auto industry is becoming a priority, but here are two of the big ones:

White hat hackers: There are “good guys” out there practicing the skills of hackers in order to prevent security breaches and other vulnerabilities that would make it possible for a car to be hacked. General Motors, Tesla and Fiat Chrysler are just a few of the big car manufacturers that are investing in experts like Aaron Sigel, who had been Apples’ manager of security for the iOS system, but now works for Tesla.

Car manufacturers know that as driverless cars populate the globe, there’s going to be new opportunities for targeting systems. Two white hat hackers, Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller, who are security researchers, were recently able to demonstrate how they could hack into a Jeep Cherokee. They discovered a route from the car’s entertainment system to the dashboard and were able to take over the brakes, steering and transmission. They quickly rendered the car, and its driver, powerless and sitting immobile in the middle of a highway.

The complexity of car computer code: As cars become more computerized, there’s more potential for a hacker to get in. Even the capabilities on the street now, like Parking Assistance offered by makers like Ford and Mercedes Benz significantly increase the amount of computer code lodged in the auto.

Twenty years ago, cars contained about one million lines of code, and today there are approximately 100 million lines of code, and that will grow exponentially over the next decade. When taking into consideration that every 1,000 lines of code contains between five and 15 errors, there’s a lot of potential for problems.

Cybersecurity in the auto industry is a top concern for automakers, and drivers may soon need to evaluate a car’s security features along with its fuel efficiency and cargo capacity. It’s certainly not going away, and it likely to become even more prevalent.

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