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Automotive Advances, But Is It Secure?

Supply chains, in general, are very complex—supply chains for automotive are another level of complexity altogether. In addition to all the components that go into a vehicle, it also stays in the field a lot longer, which means it has a long product lifecycle. The problem is when complexity is high, this leaves room for bad actors to come in and exploit it.

This is exactly the conversation I was having recently with Henry Bzeih, global industry lead for automotive, mobility, and transportation, Microsoft, and Kaivan Karimi, global partner strategy leader, automotive, mobility, and transportation, Microsoft, on The Peggy Smedley Show.

“Automotive is one of the subverticals or verticals within mobility,” says Bzeih. “It is an entire value chain that is top of mind for us, from developing the vehicle, to building the vehicle, that is the preproduction phase, to selling the vehicle and operating the vehicle, in terms of sales and service and products and services, postproduction.”

The Evolution of Automotive

Automotive is one area that has changed dramatically in the past decade and will continue to change with the rise of software-defined vehicle, industrial metaverse, automotive metaverse, open AI (artificial intelligence) engagement, intelligent data platform, low code/no code, and more. Karimi explains the progression of the car and how there has been a drastic rate of change.

“I look at cars, up to about 2010, think about Ford Model T all the way over,” Karimi explains. “Almost everything was being done incrementally and it was an evolution of the car and the cabin, and the engine, and the features added, and over time there were cars carried up to 2014, 2015, you had anywhere from 80-150 ECUs, minicomputers added over time, but they were incrementally.

“All of a sudden in 2014, 2015, the industry decided by adding incremental functionality, we have added over two miles of copper wires now inside of the car and we need to do things a little bit differently and all of a sudden the rate of change within the car companies and from a consumer perspective, all the features that are now being added drastically changed.”

He says this transition is analogous to what has occurred in the telecom space. Consider the feature phone and the differences between the early 2000s and the evolution that has transpired with the phone just a few short years later. Smartphones gained great momentum around 2007 and 2008, and the rest is, as they say, history—and now there’s an app for just about anything you can imagine. Karimi suggests the same thing is going to happen with vehicles, except look at the size of a car and everything you can fit in it.

Security Under the Hood

Security has become top of mind for many working in automotive, as vehicles have become computers on wheels. Microsoft is one example of a company that is investing quite a bit into security in the next five years, which includes a portfolio of security products that cover the whole gamut. As Bzeih explains, it is about zero trust, which must be foundational for everything today.

“When you look into the entire transmission or journey of data, if you take that as an example, from the source all the way to the receiving end,” says Bzeih. “Let’s take a vehicle, and that connected vehicle, that data is being sent over a pipe. That pipe has to connect into a backend. From the minute that data leaves, and its journey from the vehicle all the way to the backend, within the backend of storing this data and managing this data and having access to this data through APIs … we have security products that cover the entire gamut.”

Microsoft is making a choice to make security a priority—but soon it won’t be a choice, it will be mandated. There is a standard, WP.29, which is mandating cars that are software upgradeable to have a security management system starting July 2024. Overall, the regulatory framework, WP.29, allows the introduction of vehicle technologies, while improving global vehicle safety and security. Additionally, the framework enables decreasing environmental pollution and energy consumption, as well as the improvement of anti-theft capabilities.

Karimi says, to help, Microsoft has a variety of tools for vulnerability detection, certification, credential management, application control, and the GitHub Copilot, which is focused on helping the developers. All in all, Microsoft has the tools needed for threat detection in the vehicle. At the end of the day, this will help rev-up new capabilities to the vehicle, while ensuring it remains secure.

“Our vision with automotive is we see software-defined vehicles, we see generative AI, we see security as the foundational elements or anchors for our strategy,” says Bzeih.

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