Is today’s gizmo-loaded car a hackers dream machine?

22-02-2017 |   |  By Paul Whytock

I recently met a senior engineer that had worked for a large international car maker for most of his career and the topic of our conversation was how modern cars had become laden with electronically enabled systems.

Now, before I go any further you need to know this was a meeting of two grey-haired petrol heads that had seen car design morph from the launch of Sir Alec Issigonis’ revolutionary Mini right through to the extraordinary Bugatti Veyron.

Naturally, part of the conversation was taken up with just how many of the electronic gizmos on today’s cars do drivers actually use or want?

Don’t get me wrong. Electronics has done some wonderful things for automotive design when it comes to safety, power-train management and infotainment. But is too much control being taken away from the driver and does managing all these automotive electronic “goodies” actual impinge on car safety by distracting the driver’s primary role of controlling the vehicle using their skill, experience and that highly advanced computer called the human brain?

There are scores of studies that suggest this is exactly what happens. Here’s just one fact from NOPUS, the American National Occupant Protection Use Survey. It found that at any time across America nearly 660,000 drivers will be using mobile phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.

Hacking the “computer-on-Wheels”

So thousands of drivers are being distracted but there is another electronically related car safety issue which this time is nothing to do with driver fallibility. It is the increased reality of having your “computer-on-wheels” hacked.

Hackers can infiltrate your car electronic systems via wireless connections that include Bluetooth, cellular, Wi-Fi, web-browser software, telematics, ECUs, keyless ignitions and anti-theft key codes.

Regarding the rapidly growing area of car telematics, surveys have shown that a majority of motorists are nervous about using their connected-car services because of the possibility of being hacked while driving.

Telecom carriers’ telematics employ GSM devices to track sensor data from connected cars. The platform receives the car data from the vehicle through carrier-owned mobile IoT gateways. However many of these platforms lack sophisticated security features. This situation means operators have to invest in advanced security solutions to protect both the data collected by the telematics platform and vehicles from cyber attacks.

Now an IT security company that specialises in cyber attack security, Rohde & Schwarz Cybersecurity, has developed a solution that will provide mobile network operators with an additional security system.

The system includes a deep packet inspection (DPI) engine R&S PACE 2, which can be implemented as a security function into IoT telematics platforms. What it does is provides protocol and application classification in order to extract metadata from IP-based traffic.

Powered by R&S PACE 2 is the next generation firewall, R&S Specialized Line, and this lets telematics platform operators define policies based on communication factors such as the types of OTA functions. Added to that is Rohde & Schwarz Cybersecurity deep packet inspection technology which makes it possible to implement semantic awareness into core network components such as firewalls, gateways and IoT platforms.

All this says the company means operators can provide a secure and reliable platform relative to automotive telematics.


By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

Related articles