At Computex 2015, Ford hosts a display of vehicle-to-vehicle communication in Taipei, the first time Ford has shown the technology in Asia. At Computex 2015, Ford hosts a display of vehicle-to-vehicle communication in Taipei, the first time Ford has shown the technology in Asia. At Computex 2015, Ford hosts a display of vehicle-to-vehicle communication in Taipei, the first time Ford has shown the technology in Asia. (Photo: Ford Asia Pacific)

Making self-driving cars safe for the road by saving them from hackers

Safeguarding vehicle-to-vehicle communication is key for self-driving fleets.

What if your car came with a collision-free guarantee?

Automakers are getting close. Honda, Ford and General Motors are testing their own versions of vehicle connectivity on certain models, opening the possibility for a coast-to-coast network of self-driving cars that talk to each other.

It sounds like the stuff of the future, but the future is now. Drivers who are prone to getting lost – even with the help of a GPS – could simply key in a destination, sit back and let the car do the work. 

There’s a never-ending stream of scenarios where such autonomy could come in handy – alerting oncoming traffic that there’s a deer ahead, knowing when it’s safe to merge onto a highway, virtually towing another car that’s broken down or whose driver is in distress – all with the goal of making it impossible for cars to crash into each other. In other words, where your reflexes and reaction time may falter, your car will not.

It's a rapidly approaching reality, and in the U.S., it will become mandatory for manufacturers to equip all cars with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology. 

V2V uses a short-range network, similar to Wi-Fi, that integrates with other similarly equipped vehicles in that specific range. V2V messages share information about nine indicators: GPS position, speed, acceleration, heading, transmission state, brake status, steering wheel angle, path history and path prediction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced plans in August to formulate V2V rules in 2016, so in the months and years that follow, consumers will start seeing more and more cars equipped with V2V. 

Other innovations related to V2V include V2P, or vehicle-to-pedestrian communication, which aims to reduce the number of pedestrians struck by cars. Honda proposed a warning system that involves using the same technology in smartphones that would be implemented in their cars, alerting drivers to pedestrians who would otherwise be difficult to detect.

“The creation and deployment of advanced, intelligent transportation systems represent the new frontier in the effort to one day eliminate traffic collisions, injuries and fatalities,” Frank Paluch, president of Honda R&D Americas Inc., said in a press release. “We will demonstrate our vision for realizing Honda’s dream of a collision-free society by showcasing our continued technological innovations in active safety, connected and automated vehicle technology.”

But with any major breakthrough in technology comes fear and uncertainty. Who would put their car on auto-pilot if they weren't absolutely confident in the technology, and its ability to keep people safe? 

One question that has already been raised over V2V is if a computer can get hacked, why not a car? 

A company called Argus aims to mitigate those security issues by becoming the go-to cyber security company for the automotive industry. The Tel Aviv-based firm has developed its own brand of vehicle anti-hacking technology, called an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), which prevents a vehicle's critical components from being hacked and can be seamlessly integrated into any vehicle production line. The Argus IPS also generates reports and alerts for remote monitoring of a vehicle's cyber health.

Argus Cyber Security's founders, from left: Yaron Galula, chief technology officer; Ofer Ben Noon, CEO; Oron Lavi, vice president for research and development; and Zohar Zisapel, chairman.Argus Cyber Security's founders, from left: Yaron Galula, chief technology officer; Ofer Ben Noon, CEO; Oron Lavi, vice president for research and development; and Zohar Zisapel, chairman. (Photo: Argus)

The company's in-house consultancy works with automakers to detect threats and find vulnerabilities in the network elements of any vehicle. All this should go a long way toward "bridging the huge security gap facing the automotive industry," said Zohar Zisapel, co-founder and chairman of the board at Argus.

"In a world of connected cars, car-hacking is an unavoidable hazard," said Ofer Ben-Noon, the company's CEO. "Argus helps the automotive industry keep passengers' safety a top priority and comply with emerging cyber-security regulatory requirements."

Though there's never been a case on record of a successful cyber attack on a car, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the threat is enough to worry both consumers and manufacturers.

“At this point there has never been an unauthorized accessing of a vehicle on the road today,” David Strickland, former head of the NHTSA, told Automotive Fleet magazine. “A person would need physical access to a vehicle in order to get control of a particular vehicle’s functions ... We have a very rigorous program looking at reliability, looking at the proper standards of encryption, and how we deal with certificate packages and all those other issues. We don’t want to be behind the eight ball on this, and we're relying on not only the work we have been doing with the automakers but also the work in other parts of the industry, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), to find a path forward through these security issues.”

At the annual Defcon convention in Las Vegas in August, security advocacy group I Am The Cavalry proposed adding a computer security rating system to manufacturing requirements, in an effort to preempt an onslaught of car cyber attacks. The system would consist of a five-point checklist that covers software design and development, third-party collaborators, evidence logging, security updates, and segmentation and isolation. The key objective in creating the checklist, its developers say, is to keep manufacturers honest.

In an open letter to the automotive industry, the group wrote, "When the technology we depend on affects public safety and human life, it commands our utmost attention and diligence. Our cars command this level of care. Each and every day, we entrust the lives of those we love to our automobiles."

While the group acknowledges it will take time for manufacturers to bring the technology to market, they say policy change and adaptation can begin immediately.

"On this journey, the challenges will be many and they will be significant," the group wrote in the letter, "but together and through collaboration, we can rise to meet them."

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