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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: Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

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

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

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

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

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

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

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

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

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

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

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

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

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

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

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

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

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

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

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

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

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

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

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

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

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

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

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