Can I Protect My Car From Hacking? Start By Updating The Software

Inside a Tesla in Geneva
Inside a Tesla in Geneva
Marie Mawad and Elco van Groningen

â€" You hate them on your phone and dread them on your computer -- now, those pesky software updates are coming to your car.

Carmakers led by Tesla are pushing over-the-air Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G wireless downloads to add functions such as self-parking and to upgrade performances of their vehicles. It's prompting suppliers like NXP Semiconductors, Ericsson and Gemalto to celebrate as car builders fight to keep hackers out.

"As soon as you connect anything to the Internet, there's a hacking risk," said Jonathan Olsson, a security expert at Ericsson, which sells wireless networks to clients from mobile carriers to carmakers like Volvo. "We protect the software that's sent to a vehicle and make sure it hasn't been tampered with, while policing who connects to the car."

Tesla recently rolled out new software that will let its Model S and Model X electric sedans park in a garage or in perpendicular spaces without a driver behind the wheel. The average update takes 45 minutes. It's typically aimed at boosting anything from engine performance to the car's speed and electric battery usage.

As software gains ground and controls additional features in vehicles, such as self-driving capabilities or integrating with services like Spotify, cars will require regular updates, just like Apple pushed modifications to its iPhone software about 10 times last year. Many updates will be aimed at fixing software bugs -- there are typically 200 million lines of code in a car, which means it's unlikely to be bug-proof from day one, Ericsson's Olsson said.

The learning curve has proved messy for some carmakers so far, spurring demand for expert suppliers. Toyota Motor Corp., the world's largest automaker, in 2014 had to recall more than half of the Prius vehicles ever sold to fix a software bug that could slow down or bring the car to a halt.

"The car is being converted into a self-driving robot," said Lars Reger, chief technology officer of chipmaker NXP's automotive division. "Because of that, software is becoming far more important than it was 10 years ago." NXP's chips can be found in cars from manufacturers including Tesla, Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Rinspeed NXP â€" Photo: Janitors

The practice of updating a car's software is due to grow at least tenfold in the coming six years as vehicles become increasingly connected, researcher IHS Automotive forecast in a report. About 4.6 million cars got over-the-air updates for telematics applications last year, compared to 43 million units expected worldwide by 2022, it said. Maps, infotainment and core auto functions will also spur updates, IHS said.

It's inevitable that carmakers will go through the same motions as banks or retailers did in the past years, bulking up their security spending to avoid breaches that would hurt consumer confidence, said Olivier Piou, CEO of cybersecurity company Gemalto, which has Audi among its customers.

"Companies who have a reputation to protect can't afford not to think about security," Piou said. There will be 150 million connected cars circulating globally in 2016 and more than 800 million by 2023, according to predictions by Analysys Mason.

As software innovation continues to evolve quickly around a network of connected objects, from refrigerators to drones, how long carmakers can upkeep older vehicles will be key in avoiding future threats from hackers and cybercriminals. Lessons from the computer software world show Microsoft Corp. had to extend support for its Windows XP operating system, including security patches, beyond the initially projected 10-year mark because too many people were still using the old software.

"Some carmakers are ahead of others" already, said Jerome Robert, chief marketing officer at Lexsi, a security company that banks to governments hire to attack their systems in order to help identify vulnerabilities. "Security is as good as it gets in recent all-electric models, but in older cars, the ones with electronics here and there, it's not great."

For suppliers, competition is tough. Software for cars is attracting resources from companies as varied as Google and Jerusalem-based Mobileye. Ericsson says it can transpose decades of developing network-security technology for mobile carriers. Meanwhile, NXP and Gemalto have built a reputation by helping secure banking transactions, mobile phones and electronic passports.

--- Craig Trudell contributed to this report.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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