Connected Vehicle

How Vishal Bajpai’s distant vision of protecting connected vehicles from cyber attacks turned into reality?

Vishal Bajpai was always fascinated with the world of IT security since his college days. Like any other software engineer, he had dreamed of starting his own IT services business but initially, he did not have a plan. In 1997, he was doing a summer internship at IIT Kanpur where he used to work till late at night in the research labs and also spent a lot of time discussing innovative ideas and concepts with his friends. It was during this time that he openly expressed his desire to start his own venture in Silicon Valley one day.

Vishal has worked with Symantec in the USA for more than 15 years where he got the opportunity to work in the domain of automotive connectivity and cybersecurity. In 2014, a couple of researchers published and even demonstrated how a car can be hacked which he found a very crucial area as a remote attack on a vehicle was and has been a huge concern. Vishal recalls it as the big turning point in his life and he eventually put a lot of thoughts into it. He considers himself lucky to get a chance to work on automotive cybersecurity within Symantec where he spent the next three years researching how the team can build machine learning models using vehicle network communication to detect attacks. He even got an opportunity to work very closely with the University of Michigan Transportation Department and top OEMs. Back then, the US Highway Authority and Department of Transportation had also started looking into this critical problem of automotive cyber attacks, and that experience was an eye-opener for him as he could clearly see the severity of that threat. Along with this, he was very aware of the solutions being provided by the existing players at that time- who were just a few startups. His three years of experience and domain knowledge motivated him to launch a startup in this domain.

“The thoughts and ideas that I had were very different. While the existing solution providers were looking for a specific problem, my belief was to provide a complete safeguarding solution for the vehicles. When we look at the vehicle, many other unknown areas were not being touched. So the idea and conviction of providing a complete and secure solution that can build trust among manufacturers, suppliers as well as vehicle owners to enjoy this automotive transformation triggered the idea to start Secure Things, in late 2017,”

says Vishal Bajpai – Co-Founder & CEO – SecureThings.

When he started his journey toward entrepreneurship in late 2017 or 2018, the US market had already accepted this problem of emerging threats in cybersecurity. Eventually, he decided to set up an office in India i.e. the R&D Centre, where the team can build the stack. Vishal believes that India is going to be a very critical player in this field due to the reason that all the top manufacturers have a presence here and there is a lot of push from the government to secure automotive communications. At that time, nobody was envisioning the need for cybersecurity solutions as it was something five years down the line. It was quite challenging for the team at SecureThings but they started educating, showcasing, and talking about cyber threats within the vehicle, and participating in different industry-specific events.

In 2019, Vishal set up an automotive cybersecurity research lab in his office and subsequently started looking at the threats within the vehicles running on the road. Startups face many challenges especially during the initial stage but SecureThings received a good response from the market especially from the manufacturers and suppliers who used to resonate well while accepting that cybersecurity issues are a big threat for the future of smart mobility. As a result of the continued efforts by manufacturers and different bodies, the Government of India amended the Motor Bill in 2019. The bill stated that the manufacturer is liable for any threat to the vehicle, be it electronics, software, or any other thing that can cause damage or harm to the driver, passenger, or surroundings. This brought a lot of change since mid or late 2019 as everyone started taking cybersecurity seriously while working on developing various standards, driven by the regulations.

Cybersecurity has now become one of the top priorities of manufacturers and suppliers. With connectivity coming in, cybersecurity cannot be ignored especially in India, which is the third-largest country in the world where cyberattacks happen. Being more cybersecurity-ready has become a priority pursuit for the entire automotive ecosystem across the globe from the manufacturers to their suppliers. He turned his distant dream into reality not by wishing upon a star, but by converting it into a concrete vision.

Building a startup is both challenging and exciting and being a first-time entrepreneur, Vishal Bajpai also had to face many financial challenges, especially during the early stage. As a founder, he made significant investments to start this venture and put it back into speed. In mid-2019, Vishal met the investor who believed in the team’s conviction and had shown commitment to support in building industry-leading solutions. Eventually, SecureThings raised funds to foster business growth and scale the operations.

Till 2019, the startup was flying high, and then came the pandemic. COVID-19 has had and continues to have a dramatic impact on businesses around the world and it has been a difficult period for Vishal Bajpai. However, he feels extremely proud of his team members, associates, and partners who have been his pillars of strength helping him get through the tough times. He thanked his team and expressed how grateful he is for their support as they have been able to convert the Covid crisis into an opportunity and came out with unique industry-first as well as innovative solutions for the automotive industry.

Managing the teams while working from home during this pandemic has been a quite challenging task for the team leaders. However, Vishal says that a point came when we realized that the team members were equally productive working remotely. He further adds that his team is consistently enthusiastic and passionate about its work- that’s what keeps him motivated!

Sometimes it is also required for the team to come into the office for work, so they have to manage and create a safe environment for everyone, following all the guidelines and regulations enforced by the government.

Talking about his journey so far, Vishal says, “So far, my journey has been fascinating, nothing less than a dream come true! I still remember those nights when I used to sit and brainstorm ideas on how to build a successful venture. I still feel the same energy and now I’m even blessed with a great team of people who are as passionate as I am about what we’re here to do.”

SecureThings’ rise has been nothing short of meteoric but the road to success is never easy. The brand that started building cybersecurity solutions with only one engineer in early 2018 is now being recognized as one of the automotive cybersecurity leaders by the top analysts in India.

Vishal started the research lab in 2019 intending to identify all the relevant automotive-related cyber risks. So far, SecureThings’ research shows that even today more than millions of vehicles running on the roads are vulnerable. This research helped the team to know some unique attack areas and build that differentiates the brand from its competitors. For instance, the team initially formed a technical strategy that they would build their lightweight machine learning stack that helped them protect their low resources connectivity components that were coming with the newest architecture.

The team was able to find ‘n’ number of problems that the automotive industry is facing with the advent of emerging technologies. It has thus become crucial for the automotive industry to make vehicle cybersecurity an organizational priority. Today, vehicles are more software-driven than mechanical, generating a lot of critical data that is vulnerable to tampering and spoofing. To keep up with the process of digital transformation in the automotive industry, the data must be secured from outside attacks and this is what has been the focus of SecureThings since its inception.

In a very short span of time, SecureThings has made a mark in the automotive industry and is presently working with various top vehicle manufacturers, components suppliers working towards protecting their vehicles and solving their real-time problems. At present, the brand is working with all segments- commercial vehicles, passenger vehicles, two-wheelers, electric bikes, and more. As we are stepping into the era of connected mobility, all the market players are witnessing newer business opportunities and at the same time face unique sets of challenges that need to be addressed on an urgent basis. Vishal and his team find it exciting to solve these challenges and create awareness about the growing need for end-to-end solutions for vehicle security to ensure the protection of software, devices, and data.

Shedding more light about his future plans, Vishal says “In the next couple of years, we are planning to expand into new geographic markets like Europe, USA, Japan and India which is a major and a critical market. We will be building more partnerships, relationships and then establishing SecureThings brand while solving the problems of top global customers with our implacable solution.”

At SecureThings, the team believes that innovation is in their DNA and they are putting a lot of effort into establishing research in newer areas like V2X (Vehicle to Infrastructure), electric vehicle charging stations, etc. They are all set to make more investment on the research side to come up with more unique and innovative products for their customers.

Vishal concludes with a message for the startup enthusiasts and budding entrepreneurs, “Yes, this is a fascinating field. You need to take a bold step; you will face a lot of challenges but you should go with your conviction. Be strong and just look around, find ways, don’t bug down and it requires strong willpower. You will find ways, you will find great guys who are always there to help you. Remember, if your conviction is strong, you will always succeed!”

Published in Telematics Wire

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