Pushing for a Cyber Secure Car

Monday, June 26, 2017 @ 08:06 PM gHale


Automobile security is weak and, as been shown at countless security events over the years, they are hackable to the point of danger.

Then there is Ohio State University Associate Professor Emre Koksal, who devotes most of his time to thinking about how to protect vehicles from cyberattacks.

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Koksal’s electrical and computer engineering research team is focused on the security of wireless interfaces utilized by vehicles, the number of which will only grow as autonomous cars and trucks roll closer to reality. These interfaces in our vehicles, not unlike the computers in our homes and in our hands, can be susceptible to attacks. The major difference is attacks on a vehicle’s computer systems, which are connected to critical controls, can have potentially fatal consequences.

“Connecting vehicles is a great thing,” Koksal said. “Arguably, the ability to connect vehicles wirelessly is the biggest enabler of autonomous and intelligent transportation systems, which promise many safety benefits. On the other hand, now that a vehicle’s computers are connected, you introduce security issues that can affect the safety of those inside and near the vehicle.”

Examples of security issues include fake signals or messages transmitted to a vehicle. Koksal and graduate student Amr Abdelaziz believe signal authentication is the front line of cyberattack defense.

“When my vehicle receives a signal or a message from another vehicle — for instance a public safety vehicle — how do I know for sure that it is coming from that vehicle and not a hacker?” Koksal asked.

Koksal’s authentication approach involves multiple input, multiple output antenna technology, or MIMO for short. With MIMO, multiple antennas at the transmitter and receiver combine to minimize errors and optimize data speed. MIMO also enables estimation and detection of the signal’s direction, Koksal said.

In addition to utilizing proven cyber encryption methods to authenticate the content of a signal, Koksal’s team proposes using MIMO, including roadside antennas, to verify the transmitter’s claimed location. This layer of authentication would be especially important if your vehicle is on a busy highway and it receives a signal the vehicle in front if it just stopped suddenly. In milliseconds, both the content and location of the signal must be verified.

Current approaches toward achieving cybersecurity in vehicular communication is based on public key infrastructure (PKI). The Ohio State research team asserts that PKI-based authentication can be broken via GPS spoofing, where someone can take an authenticated radio and transmit fake signals from an external location. This security opening has potentially fatal consequences as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications become more widespread.

Cyberattacks, or the vulnerability of such attacks, can also deliver a heavy financial penalty. In 2015, Chrysler issued a recall for 1.4 million vehicles after security researchers demonstrated how to control a Jeep Cherokee remotely.



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