The Rising Threat of Vehicle Hacking: How Connected Cars Are Exposing Drivers to Unprecedented Cyber Risks

H Hannan

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Cybersecurity and The Quantum Threat to Automotives
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In 2015, security researchers remotely took control of a Jeep Cherokee, disabling the transmission and brakes while a journalist was test driving the vehicle on a highway. The dangerous hack only required exploiting an open IP address through the vehicle’s infotainment system.

Quantum computing represents one of the most revolutionary yet perilous technological frontiers. By exploiting quantum mechanical phenomena, quantum computers promise exponential leaps in processing power that will fundamentally transform industries. But these same exotic capabilities also threaten to shatter the cryptography underpinning modern cybersecurity.

As automakers race towards a software-defined and connected future, vehicles are increasingly exposed to cyber risks. New electronic architectures centralized into powerful domain controllers enable transformative over-the-air updates and next-generation driver assistance capabilities. However, they also dramatically expand potential attack surfaces and vectors that hackers can exploit to endanger vehicles.

Robust cryptography is the last line of defence protecting connected vehicles and critical driving systems. Mainstay standards like RSA and ECC for public key encryption have long been secure against even the most powerful supercomputers. But specialized quantum algorithms like Shor’s and Grover’s will crack these conventions in mere seconds, unleashing chaos.

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Post-Quantum Cryptography to the Rescue

In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) launched a global competition to standardize post-quantum cryptography (PQC) algorithms resistant to quantum attacks. Researchers around the world submitted over 60 candidate cyphers and hash functions. Through extensive analysis and vetting, NIST aims to finalize the PQC standards by 2024, with full adoption across industries expected by 2030.

The stakes could not be higher. We must urgently future-proof our computing foundations before the quantum cavalry arrives. Connected vehicles and critical infrastructure represent prime targets. Failure to safeguard automotive cybersecurity risks mayhem on public roads. Manufacturers and suppliers are racing to integrate support for upcoming PQC standards, enabling a smooth transition rather than risky retrofits down the road.

NXP Leads the Charge in cybersecurity

Industry leaders like NXP Semiconductors are already preparing for the coming quantum storm. NXP’s new S32G vehicle network processors pack up to 21 Arm processor cores for executing safety-critical driving functions, enabling advanced over-the-air updates, and running advanced driver assistance systems. Integrated hardware security engines provide lock-tight protection for vehicle networks and systems.

Critically, the S32G is designed to support impending PQC algorithms, allowing automakers to implement quantum-resistant security today rather than costly reworks later. In fact, NXP participated in developing the CRYSTALS family of PQC cyphers slated for standardization after NIST’s rigorous evaluations.

The S32G represents the type of forward-looking processor innovation required as quantum capabilities loom ever closer. With built-in PQC support, automakers can integrate S32Gs into next-generation vehicles with confidence, knowing robust security and safety will continue as quantum computers upend cryptography and cybersecurity.

Quantum Computing Promises and Perils to Cybersecurity

Quantum computing leverages exotic quantum physics properties like superposition and entanglement to enable unprecedented processing capabilities. Rather than representing data as binary bits like conventional computers, quantum versions rely on quantum bits or qubits. These qubits can exist in a superposition of states, enabling massively parallel computation. When scaled up into a full quantum computer, the possibilities are staggering.

In theory, practical quantum computers will excel at breaking current encryption, simulating complex molecular interactions, and solving optimization challenges beyond today’s machines. Applications range from revolutionary drug discovery to lightning-fast database searches to hacking cryptosystems previously considered unassailable. Unfortunately, both benevolent and malevolent use cases abound, especially in terms of cybersecurity.

The most powerful supercomputer today would take a century to crack a 256-bit encryption key protecting banking transactions or military communications. A sufficiently large quantum computer could cut that time down to minutes. With some estimates placing practical, scaled-up quantum computers less than a decade away, the clock is ticking.

Quantum Progress Accelerating

For years, quantum computing bordered on science fiction rather than practical engineering. Systems were temperamental, minuscule, and error-prone. But rapid advances demonstrate quantum capabilities crossing into reality. In 2019, Google announced its 53-qubit Sycamore processor had achieved quantum supremacy by solving a contrived problem exponentially faster than conventional supercomputers. While still small and unstable, the milestone underscores accelerating progress.

Government agencies like the NSA have been secretly working to both harness and safeguard quantum for years. Cyber adversaries like China and Russia are racing to unlock the cryptographic power of quantum first. The quantum frontier remains closer than it appears. We must take urgent action today to protect against the coming quantum storm.

Preparing for the Quantum Era

Quantum-resistant cybersecurity standards cannot come soon enough. NIST’s 2024 target for finalizing PQC algorithms will hopefully provide sufficient time to deploy new cyphers and hashes across our computing infrastructure before scaled-up quantum proliferates. Connected vehicles and critical systems represent prime targets.

Processors like NXP’s S32G represent vital bridge technologies to ease this cryptography migration. By supporting both legacy standards and upcoming PQC conventions, innovators like NXP aim to ensure a smooth security transition rather than risks and uncertainties. Quantum-resistant encryption will likely rely on larger key sizes and computational complexity to thwart advanced algorithms and brute-force attacks.

The cryptography underlying modern society has an expiration date. While quantum computing promises revolutionary benefits, it also jeopardizes decades of security assumptions. We must act decisively to reinforce our digital foundations before those assumptions crumble. Post-quantum cryptography offers hope of preserving security and privacy in the quantum era. But only if we act now.

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