Start-up protects connected cars from hack attacks

Hackers could take advantage of vehicle Internet connections to cause trouble; Argus Cyber-Security working to prevent that

Argus Cybersecurity founders from right to left: Zohar Zisapel, Chairman; Oron Lavi, VP R&D; Ofer Ben Noon, CEO; Yaron Galula, CTO (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Argus Cybersecurity founders from right to left: Zohar Zisapel, Chairman; Oron Lavi, VP R&D; Ofer Ben Noon, CEO; Yaron Galula, CTO (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Picture this: You’re in your car, slowing down for a left turn– but suddenly your car decides on its own to speed up and turn right. If it hasn’t happened yet, say security experts, it will soon, because vehicles are hooking up to the Internet, and that’s where hackers live. Preventing such incidents is the mission of Israeli start-up Argus CyberSecurity, which is developing a system to detect and prevent real-time hacking of “connected cars.”

Such cars are already here, with higher-end autos from companies like GM, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and others equipped with Wi-fi using 3G and 4G data connections, allowing drivers and passengers to use the Internet in their vehicles to get directions, tune into cloud-based music services, and much more. Part of the entrance of the Internet of Things (IoT) into daily life, connected cars will, its proponents hope, make our lives easier.

But connected cars are about much more than the Internet, said cyber-security expert Erez Kreiner, co-founder of cyber-security firm Five-C and former director of Israel’s National Cyber Security Council. “Companies will use the data connections to ensure that drivers don’t get lost or don’t take excessive risks, and monitor the condition of vehicles to ensure that they don’t break down on the road. But hackers will be able to take control of vehicles by hacking into those connections as well,” he warned.

Those connections could be used by hackers to cause mayhem – or by run-of-the-mill crooks to target an individual. “Having connected cars is very efficient and convenient for manufacturers, car repair garages, and other professionals, because it gives them quick and easy access to data, and lets them easily store and analyze it. But it’s also heaven for criminals,” he said. “Imagine an organized crime ‘hit man’ who wants to ‘send a message’ to someone who owes him money. In the old days he might set off a bomb or shoot at the car, but why take risks? Nowadays all he has to do is hack into the car’s communication system and cause it to crash.”

Like with most other innovations, it’s unlikely that manufacturers will turn back the clock on connected cars just because of some cyber-dangers – so it’s a good thing that companies like Argus are on the job, developing a cyber-security system specifically for cars. Last week, Argus announced that it had raised $4 million in first-round funding to develop its Intrusion Prevention System (IPS).

As cars become connected to the Internet and to external devices such as smartphones, smart keys, diagnostic tools and other vehicles, they are more vulnerable they are to cyber-attacks, Argus said. With a bit of effort, hackers would even be able to access a vehicle’s Electronic Control Units (ECUs), allowing manipulation of a car’s engine, brakes, airbags and other safety systems or vehicle components, the company said.

To prevent this, Argus has designed a system that does a thorough analysis of the communication packets, the segments of data that enter and exit the vehicle. Because the range of communications in a vehicle’s infrastructure is limited – it’s supposed to be sending or receiving only specific kinds of communication to specific IP addresses – the analysis can quickly determine if anything is amiss, preventing a vehicle’s critical components from being hacked in real time. The system can be integrated into any vehicle production line to ensure that it is not tampered with. The system can also generate reports and alerts for remote monitoring of a vehicle’s “cyber health.”

Among the investors in the round of financing, along with Magma Venture Partners and Vertex Venture Capital, was Zohar Zisapel, co-founder of the RAD Group. “Argus helps car manufacturers and their suppliers promote innovation and vehicle connectivity by mitigating the rising risk to human lives and property. This will enable manufacturers to avoid costly and massive recalls,” said Zisapel, who is also a co-founder and chairman of the Board at Argus. “I am enthusiastic to have joined a team of seasoned cyber-security experts. I am certain that Argus will bridge the huge security gap facing the automotive industry with its innovative and robust technology.”

“In a world of connected cars, car-hacking is an unavoidable hazard,” said Ofer Ben-Noon, co-founder and CEO at Argus. “Argus helps the automotive industry keep passengers’ safety a top priority and comply with emerging cyber-security regulatory requirements. As demand and market opportunity grow fast, we will use the funds invested to expand our product offering and market reach.”

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