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The Car Becomes a Computer on Four Wheels

Billington CyberSecurity, an independent media company, organizes and hosts conferences exclusively focused on the topic of cybersecurity.  The company’s mission is to “forge a serious dialogue with senior decision-makers to enhance our cybersecurity, our partnerships, and most fundamentally our trust”.

Recently Billington hosted its first conference focused on automotive cybersecurity, the Global Automotive Cybersecurity Summit held July 22 at Detroit’s Cobo Center. Mary Barra, Chairman, and CEO of General Motors, and US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx were the keynote speakers and readers who wish to hear their full remarks can find them online.

Conference ‘keynotes’ generally address the conference theme in an overview, look back as a prelude to underscoring the enormity of the changes that are coming, and then look ahead with a sense of can-do optimism.  And given the very nature of the event itself, coordination of effort, sharing of information, industry-wide cooperation, and industry/government or private/ public collaboration are the usual ingredients cited for achieving the vision.

These keynotes were no exception, but this is not to suggest it all seemed rote.  Indeed the central theme of both keynoters was the need to meet the challenge of foundation building in this area, while, at the same time, the superstructure—the autonomous, connected vehicular road system of the future itself continues spinning through early-stage development.  Their remarks affirm there is a broad-based understanding of the critical need for data protection and protection against all forms of ‘hacking’ interference.

Likewise, the conference remarks affirm the understanding that no one player —not a single car company by itself or an automotive parts supplier or a road systems engineer – can tackle this alone.  If ever a problem required a harmonized, cooperative, collaborative response, this may well be it.

Mary Barra set the stage by noting that the auto industry is expected to change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50 years.  By 2020, futurists estimate there will be 50 billion ‘smart’ devices worldwide meaning seven devices for every person on earth.  Cars will be amongst the most sophisticated and complex of these devices and consumers will expect them all to ‘seamlessly’ interconnect.

It is expected that the 100 million lines of code today in the average vehicle will balloon to 200 million lines within the decade.  The challenge this alone represents for cybersecurity protection cannot be underestimated.  The current rapid pace of urbanization will continue towards a future ultimately dominated by 41 megacities—cities of over 10 million inhabitants—globally.

Car and ride-sharing services in use today by 15 million people, by 2020, will be transporting upwards of 50 million.  Autonomous vehicles are expected, sooner than later, to be an important component of this mode of urban transit.

Secretary Foxx focused on the US government plans to release a set of guidelines on cybersecurity best practices for the automotive industry.  Echoing Mary Barra he said, “There is no one company that can do on its own what all companies can accomplish together.” The purpose of the government’s guidelines will be to encourage industry collaboration and the sharing of information about software design.

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