Five key Cybersecurity takeaways for the automotive industry

News from industry experts to start driving your resilience

by François Couderc - Solenn Massard / Thales
Five key Cybersecurity takeaways for the automotive industry

In our ever-changing connected world, digital transformation is affecting every aspect of our lives.

The automotive industry is no exception to this evolution: our cars are becoming our best co-pilots, allowing us to plan our trips with real-time data or read and respond to text messages using voice command.

This change is not only affecting our cars. The whole industry is augmenting its buses, trucks, tractors and supporting infrastructure with new functionalities, allowing them to become increasingly autonomous, connected, electric and shared.

More embedded in every piece of equipment, these new functionalities are also interconnected between each other and with other vehicles and road infrastructures.

This phenomenon is multiplying the entry points for potential attacks – each vehicle representing a larger risk surface – and increasing the threat level and the importance of the potential impacts.

Like other critical areas, the automotive industry faces safety consequences that include physical damage in addition to financial impacts.

Cyberthreat actors – ranging from States, criminal organizations or individuals – are becoming more sophisticated in order to reach their goals. Their objectives are to destabilize operations, increase their wealth via ransomware or theft, and modify vehicles to alter performance or functionalities, among others.


“Nearly every automotive manufacturer has been hacked”[1]

– Steve Tengler, Forbes


Given these rising challenges, regulating entities are acting to guide and empower Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and suppliers to manufacture safe and sustainable vehicles with:

– UNECE WP.29 regulation R155 for Cyber Security Management System, and

– ISO/SAE 21434 for Road vehicles — Cybersecurity engineering.

Based on our experience in cybersecurity and in reference to these documents, we will discuss key takeaways to start preparing for cybersecurity engineering and augment your resilience against increasing cyber activity.


#1 – The stakes are not only in the long-term

With 86% of vehicles estimated to be connected in the global automotive market by 2025[2], the consideration of automotive cybersecurity cannot be mistaken as a futuristic concern.

While the risks increase with the growth of autonomous and connected vehicles, vulnerabilities already exist in the vehicles we use every day.

As early as 2015, cybersecurity researchers demonstrated that they were able to manage the air-conditioning of a Jeep Cherokee, but more dangerously, to take control of the braking and acceleration systems.

With more than 200 reported attacks in 2020, nearly 80% of which were remote[3], experts and hackers have demonstrated that the threats are to be reckoned with. Let’s not forget that the remaining 20% of attacks activated locally, with or without hacker intervention.


#2 – An impact on market access – a year from now

As mentioned, this past year, the automotive industry has seen new regulations and standards targeting the cybersecurity of the sector.

Since June 2020, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) released the WP.29 regulation R155 for Cyber Security Management System. The UNECE document makes many references to the ISO/SAE 21434 standard, which will provide support for meeting the requirements of the regulation upon its release by the end of 2021.

As of June 2022, the requirements of the WP.29 R155 regulations will be non-negotiable for market access in the 56 member states of the UNECE, including Canada and the USA.

Such requirements include the management of cybersecurity measures for future vehicles by the OEM and sets expectations to retrofit these tools and techniques on earlier models in the upcoming years.

Regarding the ISO/SAE 21434 standard, while its purpose is not to legally bind industry actors, it is positioned to be a significant differentiator for the future of mobility. It will guarantee a high level of security for the vehicles or provide evidence that the vehicle has been developed in alignment with industry standards and best practices.


#3 – A responsibility throughout a vehicle’s lifecycle

In the ISO/SAE 21434 standard, which is intended to guide organizations through the processes they must follow to implement cybersecurity requirements, OEMs are responsible for the entire vehicle lifecycle: from the conception phase to decommissioning.

Since the average lifespan of a car is about 200,000 miles or 12 years[4], post-production processes such as software upgrades and incident response must be heavily considered.

The OEMs are not the only actors targeted in the document: suppliers will also need to comply with the security requirements.

To facilitate the management of such knowledge and data, the standard goes into detail regarding the governance aspects to take into account. The framework to implement includes suppliers and updates management, continuous improvement, risks assessments methodologies, etc.


#4 – The duty of fleet operators

From local buses and shared cars to cargo trucks, vehicle fleets can represent opportunities of interest for malicious groups. Especially amid the current pandemic, an attack could impact the distribution of medical supplies or vaccines.

Fleetwide cyber risks should be on the industry’s radar, especially for fleet operators that will have to incur the costs and operational impacts of service disruptions. From purchasing to day-to-day operations, fleet management teams have a role to play in ensuring a cybersecure industry.

As more and more buyers and managers of fleets of vehicles include cybersecurity requirements in their call for proposals, this heightened focus will significantly influence the overall security of our mobility. It will ensure cybersecurity requirements are met, evaluated but most importantly managed throughout the product lifecycle.


#5 – A golden rule: Do NOT pay the ransom

It may seem like a straightforward statement to make – but paying the ransom will only help perpetuate the risks of cyber-attacks, as it finances the criminal organizations. It is not a solution, as even after paying the ransom, you are not guaranteed that your organization will recover its data or goods.

Not paying the ransom means you need to be prepared in advance with the help of cybersecurity experts.


Assess your vulnerabilities

Whether you make or use vehicles, take the first steps towards resilient operations and vehicles with an assessment of your cybersecurity maturity. With the right experts, you will identify the gaps to fill in order to comply with the recent regulations and provide trustable experiences to your customers.

As a cybersecurity leader, the Thales multidisciplinary team based in Quebec can support you to assess, organize and implement a framework that fits your needs.

Towards a mobility you can trust.




This blog post is made possible by our great partner Thales as part of the Transportation Cybersecurity and functional safety Forum, an initiative of Propulsion Québec and supported by the Quebec government.