Accelerated public safety concerns of connected cars need to be addressed.

Author:Morrow, Stephen

A phone on wheels

Buoyed by today's smart cities and the need for the world's 1.2 billion motor vehicles to be able to navigate the world's streets more safely, there has been a substantial rise of what is commonly referred to as the 'connected car'. In fact, some 12 percent of all cars on the roads are predicted to be connected to the Internet by the end of the year. Internet-connected cars can enhance the driver's experience by providing driver-assistance apps, as well as information and a plethora of entertainment services.

Connected cars are already one of the biggest exponents of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. In fact, with smartphone penetration hitting a saturation point in many western countries, mobile-industry consultants Chetan Sharma revealed that in the US there are now more cars being added to mobile networks than actual mobile phone handsets in the first quarter this year.

A breach of public safety

Whilst the market is firmly in fifth gear, the security that underpins connected car technology is still spluttering in second at best. There has already been a number of 'stunt hacks' such as a well-publicised one on Jeep last year where hackers took over the controls wirelessly and sent commands through the car's entertainment system. This enabled access to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission with the driver within unable to override them[3],

Until now, security and safety have been considered as two completely separate entities. Unlike the high profile breaches such as Home Depot and Sony that have been confined to legal ramification and a knock to consumer confidence, the potential breach of a connected car could lead to someone sustaining physical harm. This is--along with medical devices and critical infrastructure--the first time that computer security is intersecting with public safety, with serious ramifications.

A shift in focus

Automotive manufacturers have been focusing so much on adding functionality and usability that they haven't been properly considering the threats. A shift in focus is needed. Manufacturers have to start placing security front and centre, and take the potential human safety impact much more seriously.

One of the things that automotive manufacturers seem to have been relying on is that physically getting hold of a car to deconstruct it and find the vulnerabilities is expensive, so bad guys haven't yet been targeting them. Whilst this may reduce the potential for...

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