Connected cars are vulnerable to threats including being hacked, panelists agree

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DETROIT — Connected cars are ones that can talk with one another. Since they are sending and receiving data back and forth, they are vulnerable to threats including the possibility of getting hacked. That was the topic of discussion at the Billington Global Automotive Cybersecurity Summit inside Detroit’s Cobo Center on Friday.

The conference brought together automotive thought leaders and government officials. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra offered the opening keynote in the morning and later welcomed U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the afternoon. In addition, representatives from Toyota, Honda, General Motors and cybersecurity companies like Symantec also offered their insights.

U.S. Asst. Attorney General John Carlin said we had to get better at sharing of information following the 9/11 attacks. He also pointed out that the internet was never designed for security.

“The auto industry is at the front line, let’s not make the same mistake,” Carlin explained. “If a bad guy gets in, the consequences re so much greater. We have an opportunity to get it right. There is no system that’s safe from hackers. We can figure out who did it. We’re no longer afraid to make it public.”

Brian Witten is the senior director of the Symantec Research Labs. He argued that there are great cybersecurity solutions available right now. Automakers should start adopting them as soon as possible instead of waiting for something bad to happen first. It’s always better to be prepared.

“The challenge is on the engineering teams to create secure vehicles,” Witten said. “I’m glad to see the automotive industry invest in these problems. There’s not much of a barrier for a terrorist organization. I hold my breath a bit. I’m a little bit worried. You’ve got to look at the worse case scenario. There is no silver bullet.”

General Dynamics Chairman and CEO Phebe Novakovic was unable to attend. Tom Kirchmaier, the company’s executive vice president of special projects, stepped in to offer the afternoon keynote address in her absence. He said that submarines and airplanes can now be controlled by satellites or other ships/planes in the area. That makes them vulnerable to attacks.

“We face over two billion targeted attacks on our network each year,” Kirchmaier admitted. “There are 95,000 endpoints on our network. We are required to report any intrusions to the government. We’ve empowered to act and respond. We really don’t have a choice and I think the auto industry is the same.”

The afternoon session featured a fireside chat about the future of autonomous vehicles.

Mark Reuss is GM’s executive vice president in charge of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. He said the Detroit automaker wants to continually update its software to prevent attacks and get better at it. Reuss believes that fully autonomous vehicles will hit the roads in geo-fenced areas (virtual boundaries around a real-world geographical areas) in the next four to five years. However, he said it will take about 10 years for self-driving cars to hit dealers.

“With our new Cadillac CT6 Super Cruise, we can slow the car down and make sure the person is OK,” Reuss explained. “OnStar is adding 4G LTE. There are a different set of risks. The key is agility and safety. It’s basically an integration of the Rubik’s Cube. Education has go to be flawless. We’ve got to put the customer at the center of it. There’s a lot we can learn from companies like Boeing.”

Raj Rajkumar is a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He believes that it will take another seven years for semi-autonomous vehicles to hit the streets in certain areas. The professor also agreed with Reuss that it would be 10 years before people can buy a fully autonomous vehicle.

“A human needs to be in the loop and able to take over,” Rajkumar said. “GPS devices can be spoofed. Hackers can get into the battery system of electric vehicles to cause a fire or explosion.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx provided the closing keynote speech on Friday afternoon. He started his talk by discussing a topic that got a few laughs from audience members.

“The level of distraction has gone up due to the Pokémon Go app,” Foxx explained. “Folks driving or walking using this app can endanger themselves.”

Then, the transportation secretary changed gears to a more serious subject.

“We lost 35,000 lives on America’s roadways,” he added. “Connected and autonomous vehicles will be the backbone. We see the potential to save lives. Some advancements can be hacked or misused. We have many cybersecurity challenges ahead. Transportation is being reimagined. More capacity on our roadways is an exciting prospect.”

Foxx ended by announcing a cybersecurity best practices document that he says will be released in the coming weeks or months. No further timetable was given.

Autonomous vehicles and connected cars will both present cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the future. However, it is great to hear that both automakers and government agencies are working together to address these threats and keep them secure.

For more information about the Billington Global Automotive Cybersecurity Summit, visit


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General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra offered the morning keynote address at the summit. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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CNN Correspondent Rene Marsh (right) interviews U.S. Asst. Attorney General John Carlin. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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From left to right: Mark Reuss of General Motors, Prof. Raj Rajkumar of Carnegie Mellon University and Joe White of Thompson Reuters discussing “The Future of Autonomous Vehicles.” (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a cybersecurity best practices document would be released in the coming weeks or months. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Conference attendees speaking with a representative from Symantec. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Battery pack from the upcoming 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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