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NHTSA proposes motor vehicle cybersecurity guidance

By Dave Leggett | 25 October 2016

The US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it is taking a proactive safety approach to protect vehicles from malicious cyber-attacks and unauthorised access by releasing proposed guidance for improving motor vehicle cybersecurity.

"Cybersecurity is a safety issue, and a top priority at the Department," said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Our intention with today's guidance is to provide best practises to help protect against breaches and other security failures that can put motor vehicle safety."

The proposed cybersecurity guidance focuses on layered solutions to ensure vehicle systems are designed to take appropriate and safe actions, even when an attack is successful. The guidance recommends risk-based prioritised identification and protection of critical vehicle controls and consumers' personal data. Further, it recommends that companies should consider the full life-cycle of their vehicles and facilitate rapid response and recovery from cybersecurity incidents.

This guidance also highlights the importance of making cybersecurity a top leadership priority for the automotive industry, and suggests that companies should demonstrate it by allocating appropriate and dedicated resources, and enabling seamless and direct communication channels though organisational ranks related to vehicle cybersecurity matters.

"In the constantly changing environment of technology and cybersecurity, no single or static approach is sufficient," said NHTSA administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. "Everyone involved must keep moving, adapting, and improving to stay ahead of the bad guys."

In addition to product development, the guidance suggests best practises for researching, investigating, testing and validating cybersecurity measures. NHTSA recommends the industry self-audit and consider vulnerabilities and exploits that may impact their entire supply-chain of operations. The safety agency also recommends employee training to educate the entire automotive workforce on new cybersecurity practises and to share lessons learned with others.

The best practises guidance released today is based on public feedback gathered by NHTSA, as well as the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) framework for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity. The proposed guidance follows actions by other entities on motor vehicle cybersecurity, including SAE J3061 recommended best practice: cybersecurity guidebook for cyber-physical vehicle systems and the executive summary to the automotive cybersecurity best practises issued by the Auto-ISAC in, collaboration with the motor vehicle trade associations, in July 2016. NHTSA's guidance also suggests that organisations should consider and adopt all applicable industry best practises.