Building the blocks in auto cyber security

Automotive technology is leading the way in many new innovations so it’s not such a surprise that blockchain could soon be looking after the cyber security of cars.

That’s the mission that CyberCar is championing as what it claims will be the most secure method of handling data sent to and received from connected vehicles.

Its CEO, Pat Kennedy, told TU-Automotive that the company has already seen eager adoption of the technology in the fleet market.

He said: “We launched the product in the fleet market and the reason for that there is a lot of need for high security for example in the transportation of drugs, for foods kept at certain temperatures, etc. For these, there is an immediate need for a community of validation in the blockchain open space. So information is submitted and validated by multiple parties and, say when it goes over 50%, you can have rules that when it’s posted to the ledger then the ledger is chained and it cannot be interfered with.”

CyberCar’s vice-president, Chuck Spaur, outlined the particular benefits of employing blockchain in a secure data environment. He explained: “The architecture of blockchain is that as long as half of the participants are ‘good actors’ the information on contracts that are written in the blockchain ledger cannot be altered without everyone having knowledge that the alteration has taken place.

“So there is, what we call, a membrane of trust around the blockchain so that when something is in it, and with more and more interested parties joining the blockchain, we are very confident that what’s there is the truth.

“The old computer adage ‘garbage in, garbage out’ – you put something that is not true in the blockchain and everybody hashes it and discovers a new block and add that to the chain of blocks so when you put garbage in all you are doing is a great job of protecting the integrity of that garbage.

“What we want to do is to extend that membrane of trust from the enclosed blockchain of today into the car. To do that we can put computer resources, security capabilities on those computing resources, in the vehicle itself. This level of security could, ultimately, go all the way out to the vehicle’s sensors.

“The idea being that we digitally sign a set of information, including vehicle identity participant or driver identity and parameters around the operation of the vehicle, such as the speed, the location, how the driver is behaving and how the vehicle is behaving. We sign all this and put that in a way that is easily assimilated into the blockchain. This brings integrity into the vehicle from the moment the data is created or sampled and then is stored in a way that is preserved, for better or worse, for evermore.”

Kennedy said the technology can offer huge advantages to carmakers many seemingly still uncertain over how to make the ever more connected vehicles secure from hackers. He said: “The big differentiator here is the immutability of the data that goes into the blockchain. Our job now is to figure out how to launch it with a lot of applications. We hit pay-dirt, quite frankly, in the fleet market and once that is all settled we will be able to bring our case to the automakers themselves.

“Of these, one could adopt it or 20 could adopt it because I don’t think there is another secure community database out there where automakers could provide community attestation to phenomena that a blockchain can. It has shown itself to be a really robust security platform that the community votes in or not.”

Kennedy believes a closed community private blockchain will be the favoured choice for automakers. “I think the automakers will go for a private blockchain and I think there would be multiple parties on that private from credit card companies to insurance companies to a variety of other companies. So let’s say you have five companies and the automakers want the blockchain to be private because there is user data on them that they would not want in the public domain.”

Spaur said the technology allows for many benefits both for the blockchain community parties involved and for the consumer keen to have a much details about the vehicle’s life as is possible. He explained: “There will be many ledgers that will be associated with the operation of the vehicle, warranty information, service information, so the carmakers are liable for that warranty information so the integrity of that information is important. I think vehicle blockchain will become a pretty generic term for blockchains that support many different applications areas.

“Then there will be further partitions into pharmaceuticals, food stuffs, and any high value cargo and these will probably be on distinct blockchains. When you have multiple parties that have a mutual interest such as a cargo owner and a buyer or seller of something that is being distributed, you have a fleet operator, you have the government and other regulators, then you have the drivers and the insurance companies.

“So you end up with half a dozen entities that have an interest in this vehicle and the movement of its cargo. In that scenario, it makes a lot of sense for each one of those entities have their own (blockchain) node that connects and shares with the other nodes. There’s a motivation for each of them to participate because they all have a shared interest in the integrity of the data that’s in that blockchain. That’s the sweet spot.”

Kennedy agreed adding: “This also could become a way of handling the vehicle’s warranty. What we would expect to see in a carmaker in the blockchain is the OEM putting the VIN number, the warranty, service history, insurance history, owner history in the blockchain and have that community data that legitimises the data so it can be sold to the new buyer of the car and the second buyer and so on as the car’s life goes on. The new buyer can say ‘I want the blockchain data so I can tell how well it’s been treated and by whom’.

“There is a lot of information that just is not captured at the moment because there isn’t a trusted community to use.”


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