Recent Honda news has revealed a vulnerability that allows cybersecurity hackers to remotely start car engines and unlock them at close range. The process involves controlling the remote access system without a key and capturing signals sent from the owner’s keychain.

This problem concerns nine Honda models, including the Honda Civic LX and Honda Civic Hatchback. Experts have advised owners to protect keychains with handbags and even drop them at a local dealership if they think they have been injured.

With this problem in mind, we spoke with Bernard Montel, Technical Director of Tenable EMEA, to discuss the issue of automotive cybersecurity and what more can be done to address this issue.

Just Auto (JA): Could you report on your role?

I am the CTO of Tenable EMEA, which means I am responsible for Tenable’s voice at industry events, marketing events, but also responsible to customers and the press. Inside, I work to support this area, and I also connect with product managers – people who develop solutions.

I have been working in cybersecurity for over 20 years. I used to work for another American security vendor and sell in two different spaces. One is what we call identity and access management, all protection around identities.

Another domain is another domain called threat detection or response, which identifies threats, detects attacks, and attempts to respond to those attacks when customers detect them with tools and technology.

Why has cybersecurity become so important to the security of the automotive industry lately?

I think this is happening now because we are in the process of transforming in the automotive industry. I worked at Renault as an insurance consultant, but that was a long time ago, around 1999. At the time, we were talking about transforming the platform; at the time the cars used the same platform, but today we are in a period of transformation, the car is really connected.

We are in a global business transformation for car manufacturers. We see exactly the same transformations that we see in any industry and around the world. IT transformation provides a lot of opportunities, but with it comes the risk.

What are the biggest hacking risks for car owners today?

I think everyone is focusing on the car itself, but if we step back for a minute, the connected cars are not just connected to nowhere, they are connected to the infrastructure, which in most cases is Cloud.

One of the main risks is actually the infrastructure around the cars, because the more you have the great infrastructure to connect the cars, the “surface attack” increases. It’s not just the number of connected cars, but the number of services and infrastructure around, which is very large.

One of the main goals will be the infrastructure for data acquisition because it is highly confidential data. Because this is confidential data, attackers want to monetize the data.

The second area is what services connected cars can offer. I have an app here and a connected car; I can open the car, I can open the windows, I can run the fan, I can do a lot of things. In doing so, I know that risk potentially exists, so this level of risk needs to be managed and minimized, but in our business we know that zero risk does not exist.

Are new cars and electric cars (EMs) more at risk?

The risk for EVs is higher because the infrastructure is larger due to the charging infrastructure. Given that the number one attackers’ goal is to get money, there are many ways to do this. You can steal data and try to monetize the data you just got, you can shut down the infrastructure, and every minute that that infrastructure doesn’t work, the enterprise incurs costs.

Classic cars, they don’t need so much infrastructure – they only need fuel. EV requires a huge network to recharge. If this network is targeted and disconnected, then all EV cars are exposed at once, even without the need to penetrate or hack a single car directly.

Now the second part of EV cars is that they are by nature more interconnected; EV cars have a new business model. The more devices you have connected or services connected, the more attack surface.

What does the industry need to do to prevent cybersecurity threats?

The number one attacks we’ve seen so far are mostly related to third-party software supply chains. At the moment, this is the majority of attacks.

If you use third-party software, you need to really control these technologies. Second point: there is no system without vulnerabilities. Imagine you have a map of your system and this map grows – because you have more and more updates. You need to know exactly the assets you are responsible for to be sure that if there is any security vulnerability, the researchers will immediately eliminate it because otherwise you are leaving the door open for some malicious action.

There are two elements in my answers to this. Number one is third party software. The second is to really manage and understand the full picture of your infrastructure and fix it immediately if there is any vulnerability.

Do you see hardware and software vendors that will collaborate on automotive cybersecurity in the future?

I think the automotive industry will follow other industries so far; this is very high competition. In the last 25 years, nothing has really happened, now the industry is undergoing a transformation, and a lot has happened not only because of EV vehicles, but also because of the new business model and connected cars that are emerging.

Many do not cooperate, but will soon realize, at least in the cybersecurity space, that today there is no industry that does not share what we call “threat information”. The banking industry has shared this for decades. Previously, they had a quarterly meeting where they shared what they suffer, what new threats, such topics. If they really want to deal with such threats, they need to sit down and discuss them.

How do you see the future on this issue?

The automotive industry will continue to grow and offer more services for sure, so the surface attack will continue to grow; this means that this problem will continue so that hackers can continue to monetize, this is their main goal.

From the data we have, we see that the number of cyber attacks on cars has increased to 125% from 2018 to 2021, which is a huge increase. Car manufacturers need to change their model and they need to do it fast because the competition is very high.

The more we have an attack surface, the higher the risk. We need to manage these vulnerabilities as much as possible in advance to be able to reduce this risk.

Also, because all technologies use cloud systems, developers typically encrypt applications privately in the company’s own cloud (not publicly available), private to the company. Most often, these vulnerabilities that I am talking about are mistakes made by people in the proprietary cloud. So if we can detect faulty codes as much as we can in advance, developers will be better prepared.

Bernard Montel

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