Auto Cyber Security, a Question of Expertise, Not Legislation

August 6, 2015—When cyber security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek gained access to a 2014 Jeep Cherokee and took control of its functions remotely, the world got a glimpse of what a cyber attack might look like.

Chrysler’s UConnect system 2014_Jeep_Cherokee_KL_Sport_wagon_2015-05-29_01.jpghad a security flaw due to its use of the Sprint cellular connection, and the cyber security experts knew how to explore it. But UConnect is one system among many others.

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As vehicles become more computerized, engineers develop different technologies. And as the public pressures automakers to address the cyber threat, major brands join the technological race by developing strongly encrypted and even unhackable auto computers.

Receiving word that a Chrysler vehicle had been hacked, legislators in Washington, D.C. decided to act by promptly introducing a piece of legislation that requires automakers to follow certain vague requirements.

For the lawmakers’ approach to work, companies would have to follow what would turn out to be the government’s version of what a strongly secured system should look like. But if we’re serious about security in the Internet age, should we ask a lawmaker or a cyber security expert what’s better?

Recently, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who serves as Chairman of the Government Oversight Committee’s Information and Technology Subcommittee, and committee member Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) took their security concerns to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Instead of urging the bureau to act by restricting technology developers even further, the computer science majors-turned lawmakers urged FBI officials to remember that what keeps computer Remote_central_lockingsystems secure from outside threats is freedom to experiment with systems.

Allowing companies and private organizations to develop stronger safeguards like encryption keeps systems shielded from hackers, but leveling the standards and forcing companies to operate within an acceptable margin limits their horizons. As a result, hackers are able to learn how to easily break the standardized security patterns, and more auto computer systems will then become available. This is a scary scenario because more tragic accidents will take place if auto computers are vulnerable.

As we grow concerned about auto security, it’s evident that our vehicles require stronger protection. As consumers and individuals, we have the right to protect ourselves and our loved ones. While some officials push agendas that do not necessarily seek to secure us realistically, many urge Washington to allow innovation to lead the way.

Should we allow government officials to set the standards, or should we leave companies some room to develop unique security systems, a procedure that could actually shield auto computers from cyber attacks? Comment below.

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