Today’s posture of cybersecurity in the automotive industry

In past 10 years automobile industry has completely revolutionised by providing us amazing vehicles. With increased connectivity, improved comfort, road safety and connivence that includes hundreds of electrical components. Definitely that has made our lives more easy but makes it more complex and vulnerable to attacks. Right now if we look at the auto industry we are sure that they are going to increase the connectivity and functionality that will definitely increase the vulnerabilities and automotive cybersecurity risk. 

Let’s dig little bit down into some technicality related to connected cars. A car uses different bus protocols that is responsible for the transfer of the packets through the network of the vehicle. The behaviour of the vehicle is controlled by plenty of sensors and several networks that are communicating on these bus systems and sending messages. These network has two kinds of bus lines. High-speed bus lines that are responsible for braking and RPM management. Low speed bus lines responsible for the A/C control and door locking. 

Today’s modern vehicles contains plenty of embedded systems and CAN is a simplified protocol used in the automobile industry during manufacturing. By using the CAN protocol the electronic control units (ECUs) communicates to each other. CAN can be easily located in the vehicle cables, the CAN wires run through the vehicle and connect between the ECUs and other sensors. CAN nodes are connected on two wires,  CAN High CANH and CAN Low CANL that are twisted pair cable terminated with 120Ω resistance to prevent the signal reflection.

The CAN communication protocol ISO-11898:2003 explains how information is communicated across devices within a network and also complies with the layers defined in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. The physical layer of the model defines the interaction happening between the devices that are connected physically. Also this layers is responsible for the bit encoding and decoding, bit timing, synchronisation processes. Data Link Layer is responsible for the interaction of data with the protocol in terms of checking, message receiving and sending. 

Last is the application layer that is responsible for the application of CAN device.

The CAN architecture has three components. First we have the microcontroller unit(MCU) which is the host controller responsible for sending and receiving data. Second we have the CAN controller which is responsible for error detection and handling, reception and transmission. Third we have the CAN transceiver which is responsible for converting the CAN controller serial data into bus compatible level before sending on CAN Bus and vice versa.

This CAN bus connection can be easily exploited by the attacker by fixing a malicious device which can track the movement of the vehicle, enabling remote connectivity and send packets directly to the CAN bus.

A cyberattack on a vehicle not only affects the car driver’s data privacy but also puts his physical safety on risk along with car’s operation. At a high level attacker could shut down, re-route GPS signal, unlock, steal, track or remotely take over a vehicle. Further the attacker could exploit the cellular connection in a vehicle to access the internal network remotely from anywhere and then track vehicles movement. The probability of the attack increases with the use of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in vehicle. The attacker can execute code or exploit a flaw in the Bluetooth stack or jam the Bluetooth device itself. By attacking the WiFi connection the attacker can change the WiFi password, access the vehicle network from a large distance or install malicious code in the infotainment unit. 

All the above problems can be effectively solved by using encryption, authentication and protecting the communication at different levels. All the unauthorised connections to the vehicles should be blocked, SSL/TLS certificates should be used during communication between the devices on the vehicle that can provide encryption and secured communication. On the customer side there can be few important steps that can be followed to safeguard your vehicle from attacker. That includes creating complex and unique passwords that comes with default passwords or the GPS apps, enabling GPS when ever needed and keeping vehicle’s software updated along with latest patches to get protection from known threats. 

So with more and more innovations and developments in the automotive industry efforts have to be made from both the manufacture and consumer side for a better and protective world. 


Aditya Nepalia has 9 years of IT Security experience in various fields including threat intelligence, incident response, vulnerability management and cyber threat analysis. Currently working in TCS under Cyber Security Managed Services project for network and web security. Always enthusiastic for learning new trends in cyber security and a formula 1 fanatic.

Published in Telematics Wire

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