After Tesla: why cybersecurity is central to the car industry's future

In-vehicle-infotainment tesla

The Tesla Model S's 17-in infotainment screen.

Credit: Tesla

The Tesla hack is the latest sign of trouble, says Adrian Davis of (ISC)2


The news that a Tesla car was hacked from 12 miles away tells us that the explosive growth in automotive connectivity may be rapidly outpacing automotive security.

This story is illustrative of two persistent problems afflicting many connected industries: the continuing proliferation of vulnerabilities in new software, and the misguided view that cybersecurity is separate from concept, design, engineering and production.

This leads to a 'fire brigade approach' to cybersecurity where security is not baked in at the design stage for either hardware or software but added in after vulnerabilities are discovered by cybersecurity specialists once the product is already on the market.

These twin problems are perfectly demonstrated by the fact that BMW, Tesla and others were recently notified of a string of vulnerabilities in current, on-the-road vehicles. Each manufacturer had to then conduct a lengthy and expensive fleet recall or issue 'over the wire' updates. Car manufacturers seem be relying on external security researchers to find and fix flaws, instead of designing and testing robust and resilient software in the first place.

Even worse, these problems increasingly arise from old and well-known software vulnerabilities that keep reappearing in new technology; 100 million Volkswagens were recently found to have 20-year-old software flaws. This is interlinked with the same problem; if the cybersecurity and software development communities continue to see themselves as separate islands of expertise, then knowledge gained in cybersecurity will not be passed on to software design and mistakes will be continuously replicated.

This is an old problem; (ISC)2 has been surveying the global information security workforce for over a decade and software vulnerabilities still top the list of their top 10 security concerns today.

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If we are to resolve this, we may need to redefine what we mean by a 'cybersecurity skills gap' to acknowledge the reality that many cybersecurity issues result not from a lack of specialist info security personnel but a lack of info security training and awareness among other professions such as software design as well.

Increasingly, we don't just need to bring through a new tier of cybersecurity specialists, we need to instil a culture of 'security by design' among all designers, engineers and manufacturers of products that connect to the internet. The move towards autonomous cars renders it even more imperative that we see cybersecurity baked-in at the design stage.

The UK education system is at last recognising this. For instance, BCS - The Chartered Institute for IT - recently incorporated cybersecurity guidelines and learning outcomes in its official accreditation criteria for its computing degrees for the first time.

This means that cybersecurity will no longer be taught as a standalone subject but will soon be part of every computing degree, so that everyone from software engineers to games developers will have a common base of cybersecurity knowledge. The UK Engineering Council now includes cybersecurity in its UK-SPEC competence requirements for engineering professionals. We now need to go further and see recruiters prioritising security knowledge among the hiring criteria for many jobs across our connected economy.

Eventually, we will have to move away from the view of software design and info security as separate specialisms, and move towards a culture where security is a core part of all technological innovation.

Adrian Davis, Managing Director, EMEA at (ISC)2

This story, "After Tesla: why cybersecurity is central to the car industry's future" was originally published by Computerworld UK.

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