Keeping people safe with automotive cybersecurity - how Threat Modeling can help

Vehicles getting hacked, smart cars being hijacked: these risks are real. Which risks do manufacturers need to address? How do you map these threats? Automotive security specialist Anna Prudnikova shares her insights.

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Identifying Automotive Risks with Threat Modeling

Interview with Anna Prudnikova, Automotive Security Specialist at Secura.

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Anna Prudnikova

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Liesbeth Sparks

Author: Liesbeth Sparks, Content Writer at Secura.

Insecure vehicles impact the safety of actual people, which is why regulators are focusing strongly on cybersecurity measures for the automotive industry.

Identifying which threats are relevant can be tricky, says Anna Prudnikova, automotive security specialist at Secura: ‘Cybersecurity is relatively a new topic for manufacturers and the most complicated part is to get started with the correct expertise on board.’

Which challenges does the automotive industry face? And how does Threat Modeling help address these challenges?

The cyber risks to the automotive sector are growing

Automotive security is growing rapidly, Prudnikova sees. ‘In 2015 a group of researchers, so called white hat hackers, managed to hack a Jeep. They took full control of the car and then drove it off road. As a consequence Jeep had to recall around one million vehicles, to update them. This was the first high profile cyber attack on a car’, Prudnikova explains. It showed that by taking control of the car remotely you can impact the safety of people.

‘And it’s not just about taking full control of a vehicle’, she states. ‘I remember I was with my parents in Paris, a few years ago. They had a BMW with a wireless key. The car was parked in a paid parking lot in Paris. Somebody cloned the signal of the key and hacked into the car.’

This was all some years ago, but the threats are only growing, Prudnikova says. ‘You can buy the tools to copy the signal of a wireless fob and to hijack a car for around a hundred dollars on AliExpress, depending on the brand you want to target. And it’s not only about the cars themselves, but the growing connectivity to all kinds of other systems. Take smart traffic lights: in five years’ time vehicles these will be rolled out around the world. If you can hack a car and this car sends a signal to the smart traffic light, you could even penetrate other networks. This is a real threat that we need to be aware of and that regulators are trying to address.’

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Anna Prudnikova

Automotive security specialist


We did threat modeling on two door of a bus. We identified more than thirty threats.

Cybersecurity regulation helps keep the automotive sector safe

‘All these cyber incidents and growing threats underline the need for regulation. At the moment there are two important cybersecurity regulations when it comes to automotive. Both were issued by UNECE, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. UNECE R155 focuses on cybersecurity in general, UNECE R156 focuses more on software updates.

‘UNECE covers 56 countries in North America, Europe and Asia. If you want to sell your vehicle on the market in any of these countries, you have to have a type approval, so the vehicle should be pentested and you have to do risk assessments.

‘Compliance with these regulations can be a headache: they are complex and can be daunting to navigate. Manufacrurers need to implement cybersecurity not only technically within their vehicles but actually introduce it through the whole lifecycle of their vehicle manufacturing. Bridging the gap between knowledge of vehicle engineering and cybersecurity is the most complex task at hand. But complying to them means that the risks of a full-blown cyber attack like the one on Jeep in 2015 becomes significantly smaller, and we can keep people safe.’

Threat Modeling can even expose risks to simple systems

‘Yes, cybersecurity risks are real for just about every vehicle. All new vehicles have smart features. Even if you don’t have actual wireless connection, you always have a physical OBD port. We saw this when we recently did a threat modeling session for the door system of a bus. This system is not heavily connected, there is no IoT, no wireless connection. There are two doors and that’s it. What can go wrong? It’s just a door. But we identified around thirty threats.’

‘For instance, we found out an attacker would be able to hijack the physical OBD-port used to connect a laptop for maintenance to the door system. All they would have to do would be: mess with a few parameters. Then they would be able to force the doors to open while the bus was driving.’

‘In this case the solution was quite simple: put a lock on the box with the OBD-port and restrict access. But if we were able to identify 30 threats for a simple bus door system, you can imagine how many threats there might be for a fully connected car.’

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More information

Do you need help in identifying the most important threats to your vehicle, vehicle part or manufacturing system? Secura can perform a Threat Modeling workshop to help you determine the threats, mitigate them and prepare for certification according to UNECE standards. Please fill out the form and we will contact you within one business day.



Secura is a leading cybersecurity expert. Our customers range from government and healthcare to finance and industry worldwide. Secura offers technical services, such as vulnerability assessments, penetration testing and red teaming. We also provide certification for IoT and industrial environments, as well as audits, forensic services and awareness training. Our goal is to raise your cyber resilience.

Secura is a Bureau Veritas company. Bureau Veritas (BV) is a publicly listed company specialized in testing, inspection and certification. BV was founded in 1828, has over 80.000 employees and is active in 140 countries. Secura is the cornerstone of the cybersecurity strategy of Bureau Veritas.