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Maximum frustration for hackers

Interview with Yoni Heilbronn, Vice President Marketing at Argus, on weaknesses in the car and the fight against car hackers.
Author: Roger Homrich
Photos: Continental, Argus Cyber Security

The protection of networked cars is complex because, in addition to the software in the car, networking offers further points of attack. This is how the car develops into a mobile data center. What is Argus’ defense strategy? 

Nobody in the security market offers THE magic bullet to get all risks under control. IT security for the car will always remain a challenge, as there will be no 100 percent security against cyber attacks in the future. We can only try to get as close as possible to this optimum. To do this, we have to look at the vehicle at different levels, for example the software of the control elements or the networking of terminal devices with the vehicle via Bluetooth or, in the future, the entire car via 5G. We have to make each of these levels as safe as possible. If a hacker then attempts an attack, we make life so difficult for him that he hopefully gives up his attack. We have to frustrate him as much as possible.

What are the solutions for each level?

Our multi-layered approach corresponds to an end-to-end offering for automotive cyber security, ranging from the development of new products to ongoing monitoring and the ability to fix vulnerabilities through over-the-air updates. It starts with the ECUs and software in the car. The software should not contain errors that could be exploited by attackers. This is not self-evident. Software contains an average of seven errors per 1,000 lines of code. Today, we have up to 150 million lines of code in one vehicle, so a car leaves the factory with thousands of known errors. There are experts who say that there are another 50,000 unknown errors. Of course, not all of them open the doors to the vehicle for hackers, but we have to be able to develop error-free software.

Yoni Heilbronn, Vice President Marketing at Argus Cyber Security

But software of individual control elements in a car do not work independently of each other.

It gets even more complicated because the controls and software come from several suppliers. It all comes together in one car. That’s why we also have to protect the router as a gateway within the vehicle network. It integrates our safety functions and provides basic vehicle diagnostics and over-the-air software updates to monitor the vehicle’s cyber-health and perform immediate necessary updates. There is an in-vehicle server for server-based architecture in the vehicle. This is a high-performance computer that acts as a network manager and communication interface.

What makes it so difficult to protect networked cars?

Everything that is networked has some interface to the Internet and can be attacked from outside. That was not the case before now. Although the car has been a rolling server for many years, it had no door to the outside world. So anyone who wanted to manipulate had to get directly into the car. It was however possible, for example with rental vehicles.
Two examples: Older cars transmit the tire pressure via a Bluetooth interface. This interface can be used to install malicious code. Viruses can also be smuggled in via USB ports and CD drives. Hackers are usually located somewhere in the world. The car was therefore not an attractive target for them. Now every car is somehow networked: via a passenger smartphone, the navigation system or, in Europe, the eCall. Now malware can be sent into the car. The art now is to not only protect software in the car against attacks, rather, attacks must be detected in real time so that we can react to them. This is exactly what we do with Automotive SOC and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): real-time analysis. We can then initiate countermeasures, for example with software updates. Car manufacturers and fleet operators can then import this update into any vehicle on a mobile basis.