How GM Is Strengthening Its Cyber-Security Effort

by CXOtoday News Desk    Sep 24, 2014


Cyber-security researchers in recent years have uncovered vulnerabilities in those systems that make cars susceptible to potentially dangerous attacks. The increasing computerization of vehicles has left them open to attack from hackers, a Queensland researcher has warned.

Professor Andry Rakotonirainy, from the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety Queensland, said his research into the security systems of advanced cars had identified potential security risks. He also said that the level of security protection in car computers was similar to that of a desktop computer system from the 1980s.

In a move to to address the growing challenge of providing safe, secure and reliable technology in vehicles, leading automaker, General Motors has named its first product cybersecurity chief. The company said it has promoted Jeffrey Massimilla, to the post of chief product cybersecurity officer, as part of an eight-month review of its product design and engineering.

GM Vice President of Global Product Development Mark Reuss to Reuters that Massimilla had been GM’s director of global validation and an engineering group manager and in his new role will report to Ken Morris, GM’s vice president for global product integrity.

The increasing use of computers and wireless networks to deliver and control light-vehicle functions, as well as the advent of autonomous cars, has government regulators and industry officials doubling down on efforts to prevent, for example, hackers from disabling a vehicle or hijacking a pickup remotely.

According to the company, the new position was necessary as GM has “done a really ground-up reorganization and fundamental change in the way we design and engineer products,” Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president for global product development told the agency.

GM went to the Navy, Virginia Tech and Boeing Corp. to learn about hiring a cybersecurity chief, he said. In the process the company looked at how vehicle systems and emerging car technology reacted to each other.

Last year, security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek unveiled methods for attacking the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape. In August of this year they published a list of the world’s “most hackable” cars, which includes hi-tech cars such as Porsche, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini.

A group of security professionals in August sent an open letter to GM and other automakers asking them to implement basic guidelines to defend cars from cyber attacks. The non-profit group has suggested how carmakers can adopt a cyber-safety program to make their products less susceptible to attacks by hackers.

Experts believe that the move reflects the increasing importance of cybersecurity to the industry.