Cyber threat? Don’t overlook technicians

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has welcomed government guidelines to reduce the hacking risk of internet-connected cars, but is urging greater focus on the technicians who work on the vehicles too.

Following the announcement earlier this week by Lord Callanan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Transport, that new guidelines for manufacturers of internet-connected cars are being put in place to protect motorists from cyber hackers, the IMI has called for equal focus on the people who work on these vehicles too.

Research conducted by the motor industry professional body earlier this year suggested that many drivers and passengers are unaware of the security risks of today’s connected vehicles. Half of people surveyed by the IMI said they aren’t aware that their car is open to cyber-attacks, much like a home computer, and in fact can be controlled and stolen using Wi-Fi technology by anyone accessing the onboard computer systems.

A key factor in ensuring the security of automotive data is knowing that the technicians working on a vehicle are properly qualified and adhere to a professional standard. This is probably why 86% of people surveyed by the IMI believe vehicle technicians should be qualified and regulated to carry out repairs. Yet the government has not addressed this issue in its latest guidelines.

In a study commissioned by the IMI in 2016, Professor Jim Saker at Loughborough University, said, ‘Vehicle technicians have access to all of the cars operating systems and data communication portals. Under the current regulatory arrangements, there is no registration of technicians, no security checks and no tests of competence.’

Steve Nash FIMI, chief executive at the IMI, added, ‘Computer diagnostics, vehicle programming and software updates are commonplace in the motor industry today. However, with the sector currently unregulated and no national standards in place it’s not always possible to track the people who may have access to our personal information. We are working hard to get government to address this area as well as the creation of systems at the manufacturing stage, so that motorists have confidence that they are not at risk.’