BMW Flaw Affects 2.2Mn Connected Cars

German automaker BMW has revealed that it has patched a serious cybersecurity flaw that affects 2.2 million Rolls-Royce, Mini and BMW vehicles. The flaw would allow hackers to open doors remotely, and seize control of on-board systems for everything from the radio to air conditioning to online services.

The vulnerability is found in the ConnectedDrive software, which uses mobile phone-like SIM cards to identify authorized drivers and allow them to activate door locking mechanisms and a range of connected services, like real-time weather updates. The data is transmitted between the SIM card and the remote server via a mobile uplink connection, and was not encrypted, and therefore is becoming vulnerable to hackers.

BMW has now issued an update, which is carried out automatically as soon as the vehicle connects up to the BMW Group server, or when the driver calls up the service configuration manually. ConnectedDrive now communicates via the HTTPS protocol; data is encrypted with the HTTPS protocol, and, a configuration tweak now means that the identity of the BMW Group server is checked by the vehicle before data are transmitted over the mobile phone network.

The flaw was first uncovered by the German Automobile Association (ADAC), which had put the company through a strategic review.

“BMW Group hardware was not impacted,” the company said in a statement. “The online capability of BMW Group ConnectedDrive allowed the gap to be closed quickly and safely in all vehicles. Access to functions relevant to driving was excluded at all times. There was no need for vehicles to go to the workshop.”

The flaw had not yet been exploited, the company added. “In this way, the BMW Group has responded promptly and increased the security of BMW Group ConnectedDrive, because no cases have come to light yet in which data has been called up actively by unauthorized persons from outside or an attempt of this kind is made in the first place.”

That may be, but the situation underscores concerns as to the safety of connected cars: Vehicle-to-vehicle communication, driverless cars, automated traffic flow, and remote control functions are just a few of the evolutions under active development. New technology introduces new classes of accidents and adversaries that must be anticipated and addressed proactively.

Last summer, a volunteer association known as I Am the Cavalry called for the adoption of five key capabilities that create a baseline for safety relating to the computer systems in cars. In an open letter addressed to CEOs in the automotive industry, the group noted that “modern vehicles are computers on wheels.”

It added, “Malicious attackers, software flaws, and privacy concerns are the potential unintended consequences of computer technologies driving this latest round of innovation. The once distinct worlds of automobiles and cybersecurity have collided. In kind, now is the time for the automotive industry and the security community to connect and collaborate toward our common goals.”

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