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Open source security challenges in cars

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Almost every modern car feature — such as speed monitoring, fuel efficiency tracking, and monitoring fuel levels — is digitised. But is the software secure?

A revolution is underway in the automotive industry. The car is no longer simply a means of getting from here to there. Today’s car reaches out for music streamed from the cloud, allows hands-free phone calls, and provides real-time traffic information and personalised roadside assistance.

Almost every modern automobile feature — speed monitoring, fuel efficiency tracking, anti-lock braking, traction and skid-control — is now digitised to provide drivers with easier, safer operation and better information.

Recent innovations enable automobiles to monitor and adjust their position on the highway, alerting drivers if they are drifting out of their lane, even automatically slowing down when they get too close to another car. And whether we’re ready or not, we’ll soon be sharing the roads with autonomous vehicles.
Built on a core of open source

Driving the technology revolution in the automotive industry is software, and that software is built on a core of open source. Open source use is pervasive across every industry vertical, including the automotive industry.

When it comes to software, every auto manufacturer wants to spend less time on what are becoming commodities—such as the core operating system and components connecting the various pieces together—and focus on features that will differentiate their brand. The open source model supports that objective by expediting every aspect of agile product development.

But just as lean manufacturing and ISO-9000 practices brought greater agility and quality to the automotive industry, visibility and control over open source will be essential to maintaining the security, license compliance, and code quality of automotive software applications and platforms.
The automotive supply chain makes tracking code difficult

When someone thinks of building software, we think of it being created by an internal development teams. But auto manufacturers rely on hundreds of independent vendors supplying hardware and software components to Tier 1 and 2 vendors as well as directly to OEMs.

The software from each of those vendors is likely a mix of custom code written by the vendor and third-party code (both proprietary and open source). With tens of millions of lines of code executing on as many as 100 microprocessor-based electronic control units (ECUs) networked throughout the car, understanding exactly which open source components are part of the mix can be extremely difficult for the OEMs. When you add in the fact that over 3,000 open source vulnerabilities are reported every year, the security implications are clear.