Emerging Cyber Risk

Out of Control in the Driver’s Seat

Security researchers provide haunting proof of how vulnerable our high-tech vehicles really are.
By: | April 20, 2016 • 5 min read

You’re tooling down the highway when suddenly your car’s A/C turns on to full blast. Then the radio fires up and switches to a Hip-Hop station.

You’re startled when the wipers turn on, wiper fluid obscuring your view of the road for a moment.

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You’re frantically trying to turn it all off when your car loses power completely, leaving you stranded on a busy stretch of road with no shoulder, a semi closing in fast from behind you.

That sounds a little a scene from a spy thriller or maybe even the “X-Files,” but it happened to the driver of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee as researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek hacked into and took control of it.

The duo found a way to hack in wirelessly, exploiting a widely used onboard entertainment system to take over a vehicle’s dashboard functions, brakes, steering and transmission.

Miller and Valasek first made headlines in 2013, when they publicized their success hacking into Ford and Toyota models. At that time, they only managed to accomplish the attacks while their PC was plugged into the vehicles’ diagnostic ports.

Only two years later, the duo found a way to hack in wirelessly, exploiting a widely used onboard entertainment system to take over a vehicle’s dashboard functions, brakes, steering and transmission.

They found they could do it from absolutely anywhere, so long as they had an internet connection. Most disturbing of all, they identified a loophole that could be used to attack multiple cars at once — creating a wirelessly controlled automotive botnet encompassing hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

The team published part of the project online and later demonstrated their “progress” at the 2015 Black Hat conference.

Without question, the more technologically sophisticated and connected vehicles become, the more vulnerable they get.

After Miller and Valasek published their results, Fiat Chrysler issued a recall for 1.4 million vehicles affected by the vulnerability exploited by the team. The automotive industry has been on high alert ever since, even while they simultaneously boast about models equipped with more and better technology.

Without question, the more technologically sophisticated and connected vehicles become, the more vulnerable they get. The push toward autonomous vehicles will only increase those vulnerabilities.

“We are a long way from securing the non-autonomous vehicles, let alone the autonomous ones,” said Stefan Savage, a computer science professor at the University of California, San Diego, during an Enigma security conference early this year.

Autonomous isn’t necessarily synonymous with “connected,” however, even for early entrants to the commercial autonomous vehicle space.

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Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration, the world’s first road-ready self-driving truck, “doesn’t rely on ‘connectivity’ or wireless communication to/from the outside world to drive itself,” said Dan Holden, manager of corporate risk and insurance for Daimler Trucks North America.

“Rather, the system is self-contained, meaning it uses production cameras and radars as inputs to determine the vehicle position and keep it centered in its lane.  Therefore the Inspiration truck is as secure from a cyber perspective as production vehicles today.”

More Frightening Than Fiction

Until cyber vulnerabilities can be addressed, it doesn’t take a broad stretch of the imagination to see what the future implications could be for this type of attack. Consider a few scenarios:

  • The vehicle of a courier transporting sensitive documents is disabled in a remote location, where armed thieves are waiting to steal the documents.
  • A high-level executive receives a message alerting him that ransomers have control of his teen daughter’s car — with her in it — and will drive it off of a bridge if he doesn’t pay $10 million in Bitcoin.
  • A ring of thieves finds a way into the systems of a trucking fleet’s rigs through its onboard camera system, enabling it to stop the trucks remotely so teams can hijack the cargo.
  • An extreme hactivist group decides to “brick” every car in Los Angeles, disrupting businesses and lives until its demands are met.
  • An attacker hacking into a commercial truck’s system disables the brakes, sending the truck careening into a school bus in the middle of an intersection.

Keep in mind that even less extreme types of hacking could create vulnerabilities for both individuals and businesses.

Miller and Valasek proved their ability to wirelessly hack a vehicle for surveillance, tracking GPS coordinates, measuring speed, and tracing routes. When a vehicle’s onboard systems are connected to the driver’s smartphone, the smartphone is also at risk for attack, and any data stored in it is fair game, including passwords and credit card information.

Government and Industry Respond

Miller and Valasek’s work is part of what inspired the drafting of an automotive security bill introduced last year. The Security and Privacy In Your Car Act (the SPY Car Act) would require cars sold in the U.S. to meet certain standards of protection against digital attacks and privacy.

The bill’s creators surveyed 20 carmakers and discovered that only seven used independent security testing to check their vehicles’ security, and only two had tools in place to stop a hacker intrusion.

Several Japanese companies are working on automotive cyber security technology.

In March, the FBI, along with the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, published an advisory on the realities of hackable vehicles and making recommendations to increase security.

Several Japanese companies are working on automotive cyber security technology. Panasonic is developing a device that can detect unauthorized network signals and cancel them out. Fujitsu Laboratories and a researcher from Yokohama National University are developing technology that detect an attack, notify the driver, and encrypt signals to allow the vehicle to be stopped safely.

However these technologies are still five years away from commercial availability, as are fully encrypted next-generation automotive networks.

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Transportation companies, their clients and every organization with a fleet of its own should be asking questions about the security of the vehicles that are used in the course of their daily operations — and whether they have cover that will respond if their vehicles fall prey to cyber tampering.

“Having insurance coverage in place that would address bodily injury and property damage is something companies should seriously consider as this risk matures,” said William A. Boeck, senior vice president. and insurance and claims counsel for Lockton’s cyber risk practice.

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

After 20 years in the business, Navy Pier’s Director of Risk Management values her relationships in the industry more than ever.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Working at Dominick’s Finer Foods bagging groceries. Shortly after I was hired, I was promoted to [cashier] and then to a management position. It taught me great responsibility and it helped me develop the leadership skills I still carry today.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

While working for Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the administration of claims. This led to a business relationship with the director of risk management of the organization who actually owned the property. Ultimately, a position became available in her department and the rest is history.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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The risk management community is doing a phenomenal job in professional development and creating great opportunities for risk managers to network. The development of relationships in this industry is vitally important and by providing opportunities for risk managers to come together and speak about their experiences and challenges is what enables many of us to be able to do our jobs even more effectively.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Attracting, educating and retaining young talent. There is this preconceived notion that the insurance industry and risk management are boring and there could be nothing further from the truth.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

In my 20 years in the industry, the biggest change in risk management and the insurance industry are the various types of risk we look to insure against. Many risks that exist today were not even on our radar 20 years ago.

Gina Kirchner, director of risk management, Navy Pier Inc.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

FM Global. They have been our property carrier for a great number of years and in my opinion are the best in the business.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

I am optimistic that policies will be put in place with the new administration that will be good for the economy and business.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

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The commercial risks that are of most concern to me are cyber risks, business interruption, and any form of a health epidemic on a global scale. We are dealing with new exposures and new risks that we are truly not ready for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My mother has played a significant role in shaping my ideals and values. She truly instilled a very strong work ethic in me. However, there are many men and women in business who have mentored me and have had a significant impact on me and my career as well.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I am most proud of making the decision a couple of years ago to return to school and obtain my [MBA]. It took a lot of prayer, dedication and determination to accomplish this while still working a full time job, being involved in my church, studying abroad and maintaining a household.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

“Heaven Is For Real” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. I loved the book and the movie.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

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A French restaurant in Paris, France named Les Noces de Jeannette Restaurant à Paris. It was the most amazing food and brings back such great memories.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Israel. My husband and I just returned a few days ago and spent time in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho and Jordan. It was an absolutely amazing experience. We did everything from riding camels to taking boat rides on the Sea of Galilee to attending concerts sitting on the Temple steps. The trip was absolutely life changing.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Many, many years ago … I went parasailing in the Caribbean. I had a great experience and didn’t think about the risk at the time because I was young, single and free. Looking back, I don’t know that I would make the same decision today.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I would have to say the relationships and partnerships I have developed with insurance carriers, brokers and other professionals in the industry. To have wonderful working relationships with such a vast array of talented individuals who are so knowledgeable and to have some of those relationships develop into true friendships is very rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My friends and family have a general idea that my position involves claims and insurance. However, I don’t think they fully understand the magnitude of my responsibilities and the direct impact it has on my organization, which experiences more than 9 million visitors a year.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]