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Combating the Hack Threat for Connected Cars

While the cars that we use are becoming ever more computerized for our own comfort and safety as time passes, those who often worry about the future talk about the loopholes that hackers could use to take over control of our vehicles. The Budapest Business Journal discusses the latest trends with David Wiernik, co-founder and president of the Hungarian-based navigation company NNG.

The more cars become computerized, the more they rely on their Electronical Control Units (ECU). These can control most of the functionalities of cars, such as braking, engines, entertainment units, and so on. Add in the various connection types cars come with today — Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, TMPS — and you can see why some might worry about how easily vehicles could be hacked.
“Their engines can be shut down, they can be forced to brake hardly, and this vulnerability could lead to fatal accidents,” Wiernik paints a stark picture in answering the BBJ’s question. He adds that, as more and more cars equipped with computerized solutions hit the market, quite soon billions of motorists could be affected by the problem.  
“So, we need an effective solution. This is where NNG comes into the picture. Earlier this year, we introduced our revolutionary Parallel Intrusion Prevention System (PIPS), the first solution that protects the entire vehicle from a single point,” the president says.  
Intercepting Fake Messages
“The technology analyzes every message sent on the vehicle’s internal CAN-Bus network, in real time, using its biometric-like source detection capabilities with Deep Packet Inspection. PIPS intercepts fake messages originated by a hijacked ECU, and can even prevent sending authorized messages from an unauthorized ECU. Thus, the system is able to prevent automotive hacks,” Wiernik explains.
There is clearly a need for such a system, with increasing numbers of connected cars lined up to hit the markets and hacking being a cheap crime, though it requires a certain set of skills and research. “It does not take much to become a hacker: you need some basic skills, some research on the internet and some tools costing less than USD 50 in online stores,” Wiernik warns.
He notes that beyond the many connection possibilities a car can have, the mere fact that they can be connected to each other mean threats are rising. “The scale also grows due to connectivity, enabling hackers to take over control of not only one single car but a whole fleet. Therefore, we’ll surely see the importance of vehicle cybersecurity becoming crucial,” he adds.
 “Cybersecurity at the moment is more about preventing hackers taking control of the vehicle than preventing them from stealing someone’s car. One of the most frequently used methods of hackers, intending to take over the control of a vehicle, is sending unauthorized commands that the car’s system mistakenly takes as coming from an authorized ECU,” Wiernik says in describing the current situation.

Lagging Behind

Yet, while international markets expect to see large numbers of connected cars hitting their streets soon, Hungary appears to be lagging somewhat behind. “According to the statistics, the penetration of connected cars is expected to hit 12.7% by 2021. The current rate is 0.9% in Hungary,” Wiernik says of the local arena.
Last year, BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, indicated 94 million connected cars will be shipped in 2021 to global markets. “This means that 82% of cars shipped in that year will be connected. This number will be around 50% in 2018, and around 60-70% in 2019. So, the change will pick up pace rapidly in coming years,” Wiernik foresees.
He adds, citing data from internet statistics company Statista, that revenue in the “Connected Car” market currently amounts to USD 12 million, but is expected to show an annual growth rate of 72.8 %, resulting in a market volume of USD 105 million in 2021.
“According to analysts, the automotive cyber security market is facing huge growth, forecasted to reach at least USD 800 million market value in just five years,” Wiernik says. Seeing the potential in the market, NNG, which made its name and fortune supplying navigation and later infotainment systems to automakers, has just established its cyber security division by acquiring Arilou.
“They [Arilou] have been the first to come up with a solution covering the entire network of the car. Our decision was followed by similar transactions on the market; both OEMs and suppliers are increasingly looking for partnerships in this area. The Arilou solution to protect and defend the car is by far the most advanced in the market today, easiest to install and use, very cost effective and give drivers and the car manufacturers the peace of mind they need,” Wiernik says. He predicts that this newly-formed cooperation will put Hungary at the forefront of global automotive cyber security at “the same level NNG did to the global navigation market”.

NNG Continues to Navigate Changing Markets

NNG first came to prominence as a developer of navigation software for handheld devices. Market saturation and the financial crisis almost brought it to its knees, but it switched focus to automotive navigation systems in 2008. According to the company’s website, its solutions are currently used “in more than 30 car brands, and we have partnerships with seven out of the top ten car manufacturers around the world”.
In August 2014, NNG bought Georgia-based American peer nFuzion, an HMI (Human-Machine Interface) prototyping company, with the aim of expanding its profile. That same month, NNG expanded beyond its Budapest HQ to open a development center in the picturesque southern Hungarian university city of Szeged.
“We work with the best map and content providers to improve the lives of people in as many countries as possible. We’ve mapped over 190 countries, our technologies are offered in 50 languages, we have 12 offices and four auxiliary offices on six continents, and we have nearly 1,000 employees who come from all over the world,” the website says. “Our award-winning strategy helped us become the fastest growing company in Europe in 2014.”