BlackBerry’s CTO points to a holistic and standards-based future for vehicle cybersecurity
BlackBerry’s CTO Charles Eagan duriung his “Trust in Tech” keynote at the April 2019 SAE World Congress (WCX) event in Detroit. (SAE)

BlackBerry’s CTO points to a holistic and standards-based future for vehicle cybersecurity

With vehicles evolving into rolling data servers, BlackBerry is leveraging its mobile expertise in an expanding automotive cybersecurity role.

The days of automobiles as physical transportation devices is quickly shifting into an era of vehicles as rolling digital hubs. With multiple security aspects on the line – owner privacy, over-the-air update integrity, vehicle control hacks – BlackBerry may be uniquely positioned for the rapidly arriving age of automotive cybersecurity. Long a trusted conveyer of information, its expertise in mobile communications combined with recent acquisitions and a large embedded OEM base could help it steer the future of secure autonomy.

“We see cars becoming more like server-class hardware platforms,” said BlackBerry’s CTO Charles Eagan, who sat down with Automotive Engineering to chat cybersecurity in advance of his “Trust in Tech” keynote at the April 2019 SAE World Congress (WCX) event in Detroit. “We see an incredible amount of connectivity and a bunch of new services coming to the automobile. BlackBerry has a pretty wide portfolio of technology, we've done this before in the mobile space and we can learn from that in automotive.”

Expanding automotive expertise
BlackBerry acquired QNX Software Systems from the Harman group in 2010. The technology is now embedded in more than 120 million vehicles and leveraged by the top seven Tier-1 suppliers including Aptiv, Denso, Panasonic and Visteon. It’s also used by more than 40 OEMs including BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Volkswagen. Its silicon partners include Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia and Renesas.

BlackBerry’s QNX group is based in Ottawa, ON, Canada (BlackBerry’s WHQ in is Waterloo, ON), and its recent announcements on the automotive security front have been steady. In January 2018 BlackBerry launched its Jarvis software-as-a-service (SaaS) cybersecurity product to help automakers secure their software supply chain, and that same month Nvidia and Baidu announced they’d selected the ISO 26262 ASIL-D-certified QNX to be the software foundation for their autonomous platforms.

In December 2018, BlackBerry announced its Security Credential Management System (SCMS) service to accelerate development of smart cities and intelligent transportation systems, and in February 2019, the Canadian government announced a $40 million development investment in BlackBerry QNX to support secure AV software systems. The latest addition to BlackBerry’s portfolio was Cylance, a leader in applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to preempt cybersecurity threats.

“We've just acquired Cylance, which basically turned the model upside down,” Eagan offered. “They used their security and machine learning expertise to prevent malware from attacking before it'd ever been seen before. All previous malware counted on it being seen once, pattern recognized and then detected.”

In-network isolation
One of the most difficult aspects of creating security for the future automotive space is the required networking. Vehicles will be be networked to cloud-based resources, they’ll need to network with infrastructure and other vehicles, and they’ll also integrate this data into their own safety, control, and entertainment architectures. Each of these networked connections creates an avenue for a cybersecurity attack.

“The attack vector can happen anywhere. It could be the brake-module MPU provider, an aftermarket malware app, a denial-of-service attack on a communication bus, a de-bug port that was left open on some other module,” Eagan explained. “In the early electronics days you would optically isolate something so an electrical surge wouldn't go through. The same thing applies, you isolate the [operating system].”

“Containment is one of our best practices important for security,” Eagan said, referencing a feature in its QNX Hypervisor product. “Hypervisor is a way to abstract the hardware and create virtual machines that can be protected from one another. It gives you containment within the virtual machine. If you have a virtual machine running your infotainment and there's a compromise through some application or behavior, it's protected from the rest of the system.”

Eagan noted that though a host of tools are now available to manufacturers, the security landscape is ever evolving. “We talk about the seven pillars of cyber security, one of the pillars is awareness, so read where the compromises are happening in the industry and look at your own systems to see if you would be vulnerable,” Eagan suggested. “Another one is secure the supply chain, make sure you've got good pedigree on all the components you're putting in the system.”

“Of course you have firewalls and you have encryption, and you have all these tools to provide security, but an attack can happen anywhere where private information or important communication or activities are happening,” Eagan added. “So it’s not just a firewall or containment. It’s monitoring, encryption, updating your software, and emerging will be running machine learning on large data to look for anomalies.”

Tech agnostic, standards necessary
Eagan credited the agnostic nature of BlackBerry’s systems as one reason for its wide adoption, but he emphasized the need for standards in the space. “We don't care if it's a Google Cloud or Microsoft Cloud or an Amazon Cloud that we're talking to, there's industry protocols that we use to get the information out of the car through secure networking,” Eagan said. “Most of our technologies are standards based so that we're technology agnostic.”

“I think security standards are something that need to be focused on in order to make sure that security in the connected automobile is not a best effort, but something that we can really trust,” Eagan stressed. “Having external certification that verifies that point is very, very important. We need to be very clear what data that we're moving and why. We should be moving personal identifiable information as infrequently as possible. It’s harder to hack if you're not sending it.”

It’s not just personal information or private data that needs to be encompassed, Eagan explained, but also the vehicle’s operation data. “You need to be very careful of your sensor data. If you could cause the temperature sensor to read three degrees warmer by applying a voltage somewhere, that could have negative impacts on the operation of the automobile. There's huge stakes in this game.”

5G "game changer"
Infrastructure will play a large role in the timing and capabilities of future connected vehicles, and Eagan noted that 5G networks that have begun rolling out will be a watershed. “I think 5G is a bit more of a game changer, much more than just faster 4G. It's a thousand times faster. It gives us the ability to do things like augmented reality based on edge-computing architectures. We'll provide secure communications and hopefully detect anomalies so that the expected behavior is the one people enjoy.”

“We learned this from the mobile phone going from just phone calls to being pocket computers and the explosion of applications,” Eagan said. “As cars become connected – and more time on our hands because there's more autonomous coming – I see no reason that we won't see a very similar explosion of services in the automobile. We're not building the whole stack, but we've got a number of technologies that could help make that more secure.”

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