Rebecca Bernard
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Automakers Rush to Fight Ransomware

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An exaggerated portrayal of a hacker hard at work on a laptop and desktop computer.
Hackers totally look like this
Photo: Brian Klug

Ransomware isn’t new, but it’s certainly stealing a lot of headlines recently. As it becomes more popular with hackers around the world, automakers are in a race to make sure their systems are ready to withstand an attack.

Ransomware is a type of cyberattack where hackers gain access to servers or other digital assets and hold them hostage, demanding a ransom to restore access. While hackers can (and do) go after individuals, they have discovered that it’s much more lucrative to go after big companies with deep pockets and more at stake. This is putting entire industries on alert.


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Black Kite, a cybersecurity ratings firm, recently released a report on how prepared the automotive industry is, and the results aren’t great.  About half of the top 100 companies in the auto industry are “highly susceptible” to a ransomware attack. That means that the right kind of hacker could take control of a manufacturer and lock information about vehicle design, manufacturing specifics, or employees’ personal data.

No matter what industry you’re in, the report is actually very interesting, pointing out common weak spots. For example, 64 percent of the tested automakers have a credential floating around on the dark web from the last 90 days. Since that’s usually the lifespan of a password in a corporate system, those logins could still totally work. Incredibly, only 19 percent of automakers have already dealt with a data breach in the past — reportedly.


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On the flip side, the top 100 automotive suppliers are less vulnerable than their larger partners, with 17 percent of them rated as “highly susceptible.” The recent supplier issue on the chip side of things demonstrates just how important auxiliary manufacturers are to the larger automotive supply chain, so this is good news. No auto partner wants to be the reason you can’t take delivery of that new car you’ve been dreaming of.

According to the report, about 71 percent of automotive chief information officers are planning to invest more in their network security in 2021. We hope they work fast, considering how much new cars are starting to rely on data from their manufacturers for safety and infotainment systems.