Getting ahead of the criminals

Email Hacker

As connected vehicle numbers grow, security concerns increase, and the workshop could be the biggest battleground

The world’s gone digital crazy. Nearly everyone owns or has access to a smartphone, computer, tablet or other device that can get them online and connected. And the automotive industry is moving to make cars part of the collective.

Connected vehicles are already on the road, Volkswagen Group has sold huge numbers, and it isn’t the only one. Any vehicle with the eCall emergency system is technically a connected car. But the shift does raise challenges, most notably security.

Any connected device is susceptible to malicious attacks, whether that’s viruses, hacking or something else. But while there’s been a lot of discussion about connected cars being hacked remotely with criminals taking control of a car and its functions while it’s on the road, that isn’t the only concern.

“When is the car at its most vulnerable? It's actually when it's being serviced because when you hand your car over it’s like handing your laptop over with all the passwords,” said Professor Jim Saker, Director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University and IMI President.

It’s a new twist on the security discussion. Manufacturers are doing their best to put up barriers to vehicles being hacked remotely, using intricate cyber security systems to stop access to sensitive systems. The technologies aren’t too dissimilar to a laptop that uses antivirus software, but they don’t prevent every attack.

“I can't protect my laptop if I take it to be checked over by an IT specialist because they need all the passwords so they can actually get in and work through it,” said Saker.

The future of the automotive industry could require a deeper look at how the aftermarket works, who has access to vehicles when they come into the workshop, and the level of access technicians are allowed, or required to have.

“You're no longer dealing with an independent vehicle, you're dealing with something that’s connected to a whole range of things, and therefore it becomes a bit more challenging,” said Saker.

It’s another test the industry will need to face along with the sweeping introduction of electric vehicles by 2030 as the ban on new petrol and diesel sales comes into force. And the two are heavily linked.

EVs tend to offer more connected features – remote access, pre-heating the vehicle, location services for example – so as the electrified vehicle parc grows the need to place greater emphasis on security will increase too. And it’s in the workshop where the biggest changes could come.