Recently, I went to Wal-Mart and parked near the automotive section.
A friendly auto mechanic asked if I needed any help.
So I requested a quote on 4 tires.
He told me to come inside and get the best price.
I thanked him and asked “How long have you been doing automotive?”
He replied “Too long!”
I was taken back a bit and not sure how to react or reply.
Then I said, “Well, things are sure changing fast in the automotive world”
He said, “Yep, electronic tools now!”
That got me thinking.
I wondered what he really knew and decided to continue our friendly conversation.
Perhaps we could both learn something.
Just so you know upfront, I am also in the automotive sector.
Therefore, I know the self-titled mantra— that everybody who talks about cars or trucks considers themselves to be an expert.
The problem is that nowaday we are all mostly old school experts — and few of us have a grip on emerging electronic-intensive vehicles.
The automotive expert rabbit hole in America is getting deeper.
Back to our conversation.
I asked “What are your thoughts about the open OBD2 port in the vehicle?”
He said “That diagnostic port needed to be open so mechanics could work on the engine.”
I said, “ But it is also used by bad guys to roll back odometers, hack, and steal a vehicle by changing the key codes and electronic vehicle identification number (VIN).”
He said, “Well that is news to me— and it must be hard to do.”
I said, “Not really, just another electronic tool.”
Anyway, I told him “Well it’s so bad that the FBI issued a public service announcement to vehicle owners.”
He said, “Well I do not know that to be true.”
I said, “Actually that’s part of the problem.”
I was beginning to sense the incredible educational update challenge to bridge the gap from old school to new school vehicles — not just for mechanics but also for vehicle owners.
So I told him, “Most modern vehicles have Event Data Recorders (EDRs) to collect crash data.”
He told me, “That was OK, since the data was only used by the automakers and government to improve safety.”
I replied, “Crash data is owned by the vehicle owner, yet it is often used against them in civil and criminal cases.”
He said sharply, “I do not have a problem with that fact.”
I interjected humbly “Well, would you have a problem if the data was misread or altered?”
He said, “If they already have my data by then I’m pretty much screwed at that point.”
I replied, “Thankfully we have driving freedom advocates like the National Motorist’s Association (NMA) and personal privacy defenders like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).”
The NMA position on black boxes (EDRs) is that it is OK to use them for their alleged research function — but not OK to use them against vehicle owners.
The ACLU prevailed in a landmark 2019 Georgia Supreme Court 4TH AMENDMENT case.
Our conversation shifted to who trusts whom.
He said, “I do not trust the automakers or the government.”
I said, “Well if that includes the Congress, at least they did something good by writing a public law (Driver’s Privacy Act of 2015) saying that the vehicle owner “owns” the crash data.”
Then he asked “So how does that work”?
I replied “It doesn’t yet because the Congress, nor the automakers did not provide any consumer protection against misuse and vehicle owners are not aware of the threat”
He said, “Now What?”
I said, “Simple, you can put a lock on the OBD2 port and remove it for maintenance, inspection, or emissions testing.”
He said in disbelief, “Nobody does that anywhere now, right!”
I replied, “Oh yes they do, I own a company that makes an essential security upgrade for cars and trucks. It’s now possible to empower the vehicle owner to safeguard access to data post-crash.”
Finally more curious than skeptical, he asked “What’s the product?”
“AUTOCYB — The automotive cyber lock was my reply.”
With that said, he started looking up the product on his cell phone.
I said, “Thanks for talking — I learned a bunch.”
He concluded, “We need increased cybersecurity of automotive electronics.”
So what did “WE” learn:
1. We all normally think and hope that somebody else is watching out for our driving freedom privacy interests.
2. We may like our vehicles (but not the automakers) yet we think they have cybersecurity issues covered when they really do not.
3. Unless the vehicle owner locks down access to their crash data they are virtually helpless against post-crash tampering.
What’s Next? Educate and Empower Consumers.
I contributed as Chairman of IEEE Global Standard Project for Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders to creating the Transportation Research Board TRB Special Report 308: The Safety Challenge and Promise of Automotive Electronics: Insights from Unintended Acceleration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
The remainder of this article includes useful content from that report to better understand electronic-intensive vehicles.
National Academies Findings
The findings of the Transportation research Board SPECIAL REPORT 308 detail the safety promise and challenge of automotive electronics.
Finding 1: Electronics systems have become critical to the functioning of the modern automobile. Enabled by advances in sensors, microprocessors, software, and networking capabilities, these systems are providing a rich and expanding array of vehicle features and applications for comfort, convenience, efficiency, operating performance, and safety. Almost all functions in today’s automobile are mediated by computer-based electronics systems. Some of these systems have improved on
capabilities once provided by mechanical, electromechanical, and hydraulic systems. In many other cases, electronics systems are enabling the introduction of new capabilities, including a growing number of applications intended to assist the driver in avoiding and surviving crashes.
Finding 2: Electronics systems are being interconnected with one another and with devices and networks external to the vehicle to provide their desired functions. System interconnectivity and complexity are destined to grow as the capabilities and performance of electronics hardware, software, and networking continue to expand along with consumer demands for the benefits these interconnected systems confer. Networked electronics systems and software will continue to be the foundation for much of the innovation in automobiles and may lead to fundamental changes in how the responsibilities for driving tasks and vehicle control are shared among the driver,
the vehicle, and the infrastructure.
Finding 3: Proliferating and increasingly interconnected electronics systems are creating opportunities to improve vehicle safety and reliability as well as demands for addressing new system safety and cybersecurity risks. As systems share sensors and exchange data to expand functionality, an emerging safety assurance challenge is to prevent (a) the unintended coupling of systems that can lead to incorrect information being shared and
(b) unauthorized access to or modifications of vehicle control systems, both of which could lead to unintended and unsafe vehicle behaviors. A critical aspect of this challenge is to ensure that the complex software programs managing and integrating these electronics systems perform as expected and avoid unsafe interactions. Another is to ensure that the electronics hardware being embedded throughout the vehicle is compatible with the demanding automotive operating environment, including the electromagnetic environment, which may be changing as electronics devices and accessories are added to automobiles. Inasmuch as many problems in software and electromagnetic interference may leave no physical trace behind, detection and diagnosis of them can be more difficult.
Finding 4: By enabling the introduction of many new vehicle capabilities and changes in familiar driver interfaces, electronics systems are presenting new human factors challenges for system design and vehicle- level integration. Although automotive manufacturers spend much time and effort in designing and testing their systems with users in mind, the creation of new vehicle capabilities may lead to responses by drivers that are not predicted and that may not become evident until a system is in
widespread use. Drivers unfamiliar with the new system capabilities and interfaces may respond to or use them in unexpected and potentially unsafe ways. Thus, human factors expertise, which has always been important in vehicle design and development, is likely to become even more so in designing electronics systems that perform and are used safely.
Finding 5: Electronics technology is enabling nearly all vehicles to be equipped with EDRs that store information on collision- related parameters as well as enabling other embedded systems that monitor the status of safety-critical electronics, identify and diagnose abnormalities and defects, and activate predefined corrective responses when a hazardous condition is detected. Access to data logged in EDRs can aid crash investigators, while diagnostics systems can facilitate vehicle repair and servicing
and inform automotive manufacturers about possible system design, engineering, and production issues. Continued advances in electronics technology and their proliferation in vehicles can be expected both to necessitate and to enable more applications for monitoring state of health, performing self-diagnostics,
implementing fail-safe strategies, and logging critical data in the event of crashes and unusual system and vehicle behaviors.