Automotive IoT Security: The Challenge of Protecting Connected Cars - Stefanini

Automotive IoT Security: The Challenge Of Protecting Connected Cars

Today’s connected vehicles are designed to seamlessly integrate with a network of digital systems and devices. The growing number of internet connected devices (collectively termed Internet of Things) such as smart phones and cloud connected services have revolutionized the functionality of modern automobiles.

However, more connectivity means more vulnerabilities, and as the number of cybercrimes continues to grow, developers must address these in order to defend connected cars from malicious actors and ensure the safety and security of passengers.

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The Need for Automotive IoT Security

Internet of Things (IoT) devices are already reshaping how we connect to our cars. Until recently, cars were not designed with connectivity in mind, serving as remote machines, with any hardware and software functionality entirely purposed for transportation.

Today, the convergence of the IoT is transforming industries in every sector, and connected cars are one of the fastest-growing IoT markets. The two industries making the largest IoT investments in 2017 were manufacturing ($183 billion) and the automotive industry ($85 billion), according to the IDC.

It’s no surprise then that as early as 2014, Mckinsey Noted that 25% of car buyers were prioritizing connectivity over features such as engine power or fuel efficiency. The demand for connected capabilities and electric vehicles has only grown. As of 2021, it is estimated that 237 million connected vehicles are in operation, and the number is projected to increase to over 400 million by 2025.

Connected vehicles that share information serve to make transportation safer, greener and more enjoyable. The possibilities and number of connected vehicles continues to grow, as have the concern of how threat actors might disrupt vehicles on the road.

The potential for breaches in personal privacy are significant enough in their own right, but as more autonomous vehicles take to the road there is a very real concern that malicious actors could take control of cars, including those in transit.

With cybersecurity concerns in general, it is unrealistic to believe that to all vulnerabilities could be eliminated or even recognized.  Instead, the objective should be to limit vulnerabilities and exploits with proactive efforts while taking effort to detect hacking attempts and stop them before they cause damage.

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Defensive Technologies Used in Connected Cars

The primary sources of vulnerabilities in connect cars come from technologies present in the vehicle itself, network sources, and back end data centers or cloud. Automotive IoT technologies like radar, vision, V2X, and LiDar are made possible by hundreds of sensors.

Modern connected cars produce up to 25GB of data every hour, including information about the driver, the vehicle, and the passengers. While the data generated is pre-processed in the vehicle, data exchange between cars and infrastructure becomes vulnerable once it reaches the cloud storage.

Hackers exploit IoT solutions using an amalgamation of strategies seen in other industries using IoT. The series of internet connect devices that make up an IoT network rely on a combination of cloud and embedded technologies that enable physically connected computing systems to provide interactivity and automation.
The common vulnerabilities exploited in IoT solutions are:

  1. Weaknesses in peer authentication
  2. Practical cryptographic tampering
  3. Failures in endpoint integrity
  4. Failure to segment critical and non-critical applications
  5. Software application defects
  6. Weaknesses in business processes

Fortunately, these vulnerabilities are not unfamiliar and cybersecurity familiar to other sectors offer strong defenses for connected cars. Common IoT security solutions include:


  • Extended detection and response (EDR): By collecting and correlating data activity across multiple points in the data supply chain (i.e. vehicle, network, backend servers) allowing a consistent detection and response measures.
  • Firewall: Network security systems that control incoming and outgoing access based on applied parameters serving to monitor access attempts from unknown, or potentially harmful sources.
  • Application security:  Prevents data or code within the app from getting stolen, serving to secure against code vulnerabilities, data exfiltration on the server, and other common vulnerability attacks at the application level.
  • Vulnerability scanner: Automated tools that scan endpoints, servers, networks, and applications for exploitable security vulnerabilities.
  • Third-party app review: Setting strict controls on the application ecosystem by reviewing, testing, and verifying the app to avoid the possibility of exploits.

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Vulnerabilities in IoT Connected Vehicles

While the vulnerabilities IoT connected systems are similar to those present in connected cars, the forms of attacks that malicious actors can enact are relatively unique, or least have unique implications for vehicles. Below are some real-world examples connected cars can be exploited:

  1. Denial of Service (DoS): defraud the vehicle’s software, making operation unavailable for users.
  2. Man in the Middle (MitM): interception of vehicle network communications between the device cloud and the car. This attack can modify, drop, delay the transfer of, or steal data, causing critical malfunction in the vehicle.
  3. Hijacking of Services: cloud-based electrical/electronic (E/E) architecture services are hijacked by an entity, allowing for data modification.
  4. Latency: an attack that may result in the car switching continuously between cloud and local processors, potentially causing errors in operations.
  5. Personal Data Theft: Malicious actors steal personal data from the vehicle’s systems, such as personal trip or location data, entertainment preferences, and financial information.
  6. Manipulation of safety-critical systems: when a car receives incorrect critical real-time data, which may cause the car to stall or lead to accidents

As shown before, defending against these attacks demands similar actions seen in other industry standard cybersecurity efforts. Automotive designers must address common security standards by ensuring that IoT systems rely on confidentiality, employing systems that limit data availability to necessary processes.

Automotive designers must implement an automotive cybersecurity strategy that at a minimum addresses these concerns:

  • Rather than fixing problems as they arise, security must be built in from the start by employing a broad cybersecurity implementation strategy and roadmap that follows the enire design process.
  • Cyber-threats should be addressed by developing a risk profile, considering vulnerable areas and components from a customer, company, and regulator perspective.
  • Planning and implementing an end-to-end security approach to prevent third parties from accessing data while it is transferred to the cloud and back
  • Developing a detection and response strategy for when attacks occur.

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Let’s Build your Automotive IoT Cybersecurity Strategy

Cybersecurity threats are becoming more common, and while many companies may believe they are protected, even small vulnerabilities can lead to wide scale breaches and security related shutdowns.

Don’t wait for the worst. Our team of experts provide offensive strategies that identify and resolve weaknesses as well as providing defensive solutions prepare for attacks when they happen. Speak with an expert today!

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