It’s no secret that the future of transportation is going to be highly dependent on connectivity. As we’ve seen repeatedly in recent years with attacks on everyone from retailers to movie studios to dating websites, keeping computer networks secure has become increasingly difficult. It we are ever going to witness the safety and efficiency benefits made possible by this technology, vehicles are going to have to be made more secure than they are today. Qualcomm, one of the world’s leading suppliers of processors for mobile devices, smartphones, and tablets, has just announced a new feature for its next-generation chips that could be hugely beneficial on the road as well.
Malware on your phone could be annoying and potentially costly if it results in identity theft, but it’s unlikely to cause injury or death. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of potential intrusions into our increasingly automated and connected vehicles. As recently demonstrated by researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, it’s possible to remotely control systems such as brakes, steering, and engines.
Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report projects $36 billion in annual revenue by 2025 resulting from the deployment of vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications systems. Qualcomm and other chipmakers, including Nvidia and Broadcom, are vying for a piece of that transportation business. Qualcomm has already demonstrated future smartphone chips with support for V2X so drivers receive alerts to the presence of pedestrians carrying a compatible phone. Drivers of older vehicles may also be able to use their phones to add V2X capability when they are behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, V2X and telematics systems are the primary target for attackers to break into vehicle systems. Since connectivity systems need access to the vehicle network in order to provide much of the desired functionality, they will need mechanisms to thwart attacks.
When Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 system on a chip arrives in early 2016, it will include a feature called Smart Protect, which is specifically designed to recognize and stop malware before it can take control and damage the device. While the 820 is designed for phones and tablets, if Smart Protect works as planned, it could be incorporated into chips that Qualcomm is developing for automotive applications in the future. Smart Protect is different from the antivirus software on computers, which relies on static virus signatures that are compared against applications that try to run. Qualcomm augments the traditional approach with real-time machine learning that runs right on the chip to detect potential malicious behavior and stop it as it happens.
This sort of real-time heuristic analysis will be a necessity for all automotive electronic systems going forward, and Qualcomm is not alone in developing the technology. Argus Cyber Security, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, is also developing malware detection solutions designed to be embedded separately into the vehicle network from communications chips. While few automakers discuss their security efforts publicly, no one in the industry is denying that this is a major concern. Through the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Global Automakers, OEMs are in the process of setting up an Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center to enable them to share best practices. Even if manufacturers don’t end up using Qualcomm’s Smart Protect, odds are that future vehicles will use something similar to try to thwart hacker havoc on the road.
Tags: Advanced Transportation Technologies, Connected Vehicles, Cyber Security, Natural Gas Vehicles and Infrastructure, Transportation Efficiencies
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