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Biotechnology

Japan companies seeking to shield cars from hacking

TOKYO -- Responding to the growing threat of hackers compromising automotive computer systems, Japanese companies are scrambling to develop more robust security measures.

     Interest in safety technology grew after researchers revealed last July that several models from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles could be hijacked over the Internet, prompting the company to recall 1.4 million vehicles. The incident highlighted potential safety risks from hacking.

     Panasonic has developed a device to monitor signals sent between electronic control units inside a car via an internal communications network based on the widely used Controller Access Network protocol. Unauthorized signals are detected and canceled out. The company envisions a scenario in which a hacker uploads malware to a car by connecting a cable to a terminal used for inspection of onboard systems. It aims to commercialize the device by around 2020.

     A team including researchers from Fujitsu Laboratories and Yokohama National University professor Tsutomu Matsumoto is working to ensure the safety of Internet-connected cars that are hacked during driving. They are developing technology to notify the driver and encrypt signals when an attack is detected, allowing legitimate signals to be transmitted and the vehicle to stop safely. They will build a device to test the technology, hoping to bring it into practical use within five years.

     Autoparts maker Denso and others have checked the security of a non-CAN network that controls such items as seats and door locks, discovering that it can take over these systems by sending unauthorized signals. It hopes to prevent this through such steps as signal processing.

     Ritsumeikan University professor Takeshi Fujino and Mitsubishi Electric have jointly developed security technology that prevents the theft of digital keys for decrypting automotive network signals. The unique characteristics of signals for each semiconductor element are used as keys.

Industry collaboration

Vehicles already have strong security systems to prevent dangerous operation caused by errant signals from glitches. Now, security is getting a further boost with an eye on autonomous driving systems. Companies are searching for risks and developing countermeasures to reduce the chances of weaknesses being exploited.

     The telecommunications industry uses encryption to improve security, but not in a way easily adopted by the auto industry. The CAN protocol has a top transmission speed of only around 500 kilobits per second, for example, so encrypting all signals could delay transmissions and affect driving. Next-generation auto networks that use encryption are expected to become available around 2020 or later. Until then, companies will likely combine various technologies to ensure security.

     Some rivals have started to work together to face the security threat. Industry groups, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, seek to standardize security protocols related to automotive network security. This effort includes not only automakers, but also parts suppliers and others.

(Nikkei)

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