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Keeping cars safe from hackers

John Day

John Day

Posted Sep 28, 2012

I’ve recently spoken with several people about the security of connected vehicles and I learned, among other things, that providing 100 percent protection for cars 100 percent of the time is most likely not possible. Cars are increasingly connected in a variety of ways, and connected cars will eventually be hacked. The threat is not dire at the moment but it could become so, and now is when auto industry stakeholders should be – and are – working to prevent problems in the future.

One option for blocking attacks is an embedded firewall. “People don’t connect their home or work PCs to the Internet without having a firewall to control what packets pass through,” says Alan Grau, president and CEO of Icon Labs ( and the same should be true of the growing number of embedded systems inside cars.

“We want the embedded community to understand the need for multiple levels of security,” Grau says, “but the firewall is one piece that is all too often ignored.” Icon offers a firewall built to work with real time operating systems.

Grau says embedded devices in general have been so specialized that it didn’t matter much what packets came through, but embedded devices have become more general purpose, and are being targeted.”

Icon provides static, or rules-based filtering and enforcement, which Grau says will block a huge percentage of attacks, including hacks of remote car door lock/unlock systems. Icon also provides stateful packet inspection (SPI), using the state of connection as part of the filtering decision, and it does threshold-based filtering, detecting and blocking floods of packets from an IP address to stop a device from being overwhelmed.

Icon Labs provides security software for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, Intel, and the US Army. It partners with Freescale, Green Hills, and Wind River. Grau says Icon is now attracting attention from automotive customers.

intel, Icon Labs, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, connected cars, Boeing, U.S. Army, Freescale, Green Hills, Wind River, connected vehicles, embedded firewall

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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