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Honda and Waymo to collaborate, but are security risks being addressed?

Honda

The partnership will implement Waymo technology into Honda's fleet

Outside of the physical safety concerns many consumers have about self-driving technology, some experts believe the most pressing concerns about partnerships such as Honda’s recent one are cybersecurity demands.

The two companies—Honda and Alphabet’s now independent self-driving car subsidiary, Waymo—recently announced that they were collaborating on an initiative to implement the latter’s technology into the former’s vehicles. And while the collaboration provides some much needed corporate ratification of self-driving technology’s advancement, many believe that, in order to survive this crucial period of public scrutiny, the two companies should engage in due diligence when it comes to the subject of cybersecurity.

“One of the generally accepted axioms of information security is ‘if it connects to the internet, it will get hacked,’ and for this reason, many early-deployed connected vehicle offerings come with dire security risks,” said George Avetisov, CEO of HYPR Biometric Security. “That’s the unhappy reality. 

“Hacking the Internet of Things doesn’t parallel the inconvenience of a fraudulent purchase or a password reset: hacking connected vehicles may result in serious injury or loss of life and property,” he said. “There is an interesting parallel shaping up between car companies and phone manufacturers. 

“Just as mobile device manufacturers are often blamed for failing to implement strong security on Android, big auto companies will likely bear the brunt of any security issues with third party tech like Waymo. It will be interesting to see how these connected cars are secured from hackers; with auto giants exploring biometric vehicle security, there may be new technologies necessary to keep driverless, owner-less vehicles secured.”

Driverless technology
As part of the discussion on technical collaboration, Honda could initially provide Waymo with vehicles modified to accommodate Waymo's self-driving technology. These vehicles would join Waymo's existing fleet, which are currently being tested across four U.S. cities.

If both parties agree to enter into a formal agreement, Honda R&D engineers based in Silicon Valley, California and Tochigi, Japan, would work closely with Waymo engineers based in Mountain View, California and Novi, Michigan.


The announced partnership will surely have resonances across many parts of the nascent marriage between auto manufacturing and tech, some of which seem to be a part of a larger plan on Waymo’s part: the company has adopted a partner model, that focusing on integrating its technology into existing fleets instead of manufacturing its own. Another ramification on the manufacturing industry could be the creation of new sectors through cybersecurity modules in IoT cars.

“From airbags and crash-tests to malware protection and pen-tests, we're seeing a fundamental shift in what the phrase ‘automobile safety’ means,” Mr. Avetisov said. “Unless you’re a major automaker who can tell their customers that the family car is safe on the road and safe from hackers, you’re not going to last very long.
 
“Our almost-daily conversations with global automakers tell me that they are catching on to the security and usability failings that innovations like connected and autonomous cars present,” he said. “Let’s leave the economics and geopolitics of the automotive industry to the experts and those with a dog in the fight. 

“I will say that the customers who are furthest along in implementing biometric authentication are doing so for competitive differentiation.”

Cybersecurity concerns
Professionals’ concerns over the cybersecurity ramifications of unprecedented IoT adoption comes at a time of precarious public perception for how companies treat security as a whole. Lest we forget, once-great Yahoo, now worth a fraction of its peak value, recently outed themselves as the subject of a landmark 1 billion account hack earlier this month, in what is possibly the most widely publicized breach of data in history (see story). 
 
And even before the reveal of this hack, over 37 percent of adults in Britain recently reported themselves as distrustful of technology companies with their information (see story). 


“The growth in connected—including autonomous—cars is enabled by the explosive increase in the availability of newer mobile devices,” Mr. Avetisov said. “Today’s smartphones are equipped with biometric sensors and other capabilities that make login simple from a convenience feature point of view. 
 
“What’s missing is a security layer that mitigates the proven vulnerabilities in these hardware and software features,” he said. “Getting the security right without killing the experience is a sweet spot. 

“It is possible for security and usability to coexist—we are breaking that rule.”

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Rakin Azfar is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York. Reach him at rakin@napean.com.

 
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