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Telefónica demos cybersecurity solution for 5G connected cars

The rise of C-V2X represents a potentially huge opportunity for hackers and cybercriminals to cause untold mayhem on the road, but Telefónica hopes to head this problem off at the pass.

The Spanish incumbent late last week showed off a 5G-enabled car that exchanges encrypted certificates with other connected vehicles and street furniture – like traffic lights and so-on – to guarantee the integrity of the information being sent and received. It is a similar system to a website using a digital certificate to prove it is the real thing, and not a spoof version designed to steal all your personal data.

ABI Research predicts that there will be 41 million 5G connected cars on the road by 2030, rising to 83 million by 2035. As proportions go, that’s a drop in the ocean given there are north of a billion vehicles on the road, but that proportion will increase, and therefore avoiding nasty teething issues and high-profile cyber attacks will be critical to C-V2X’s viability.

Telefónica has lined up a comprehensive array of partners for its initiative. They include car inspection agency DEKRA, the Automotive Technology Centre of Galicia (CTAG), identity management firm Nexus, HPE, and Samsung-owned audio company Harman. As for the specific bits of Telefónica that are working on this project, these are Telefónica Tech and Telefónica España-Digital Security.

“It’s essential for the different elements of mobility, vehicles, traffic lights and tunnels to be connected to 5G networks so that they can work collaboratively, exchanging information and warnings to increase road safety and, consequently, reduce accident rates,” explained Telefónica. “As the quality of this information becomes critical, this use case adds security certificates to the communications that ensure the authenticity and integrity of the messages that are exchanged to prevent unlawful data that could pose a risk to people’s integrity.”

Indeed, it’s an important issue because the use cases being touted for C-V2X include various autonomous driving functions, like emergency breaking assistance, and help with navigating complicated road junctions. In scenarios like these, it is vital that communications aren’t intercepted and tampered with, or it could have fatal consequences. Exchanging digital certificates that authenticate the data received by a connected car is one way to mitigate this risk.

Telefónica and its partners developed three uses cases for its demonstration, which took place on a DEKRA test track in Malaga. In the first scenario, vehicles were automatically warned when a car up ahead slammed on its brakes, helping to avoid accidents and keep traffic moving at a steady pace. The second use case involved a vehicle stopped by the side of the road alerting other vehicles of its situation. The third scenario showed that sending information about whether traffic lights are on red or green to a connected car can help that car optimise its route.

“Real-time critical communications take place in all of them and these are supported by the immediacy of the 5G network response and secured by Telefónica’s digital cybersecurity certificates,” Telefónica said.

Telefónica said its certification solution has been given the thumbs up by the European Commission, and complies with its cooperative intelligent transport system (C-ITS) standards.

“It’s a cross-cutting, effective and reliable solution that’s certified in Europe and with international interoperability,” said Mercedes Fernández, innovation manager at Telefónica España. “Telefónica will thus seek to contribute to the technological and economic development of the car sector, in such a way that vehicle and vehicular communication equipment manufacturers, city councils and infrastructure managers can safely advance in the development of the connected car.”

In the same announcement, Telefónica Tech said it is also seeing how its blockchain-based TrustOS platform can be used to manage the ownership and traceability of vehicles. It came out the same day that Vodafone announced it has won a deal to supply GPS trackers to Volvo, enabling owners to locate their vehicle and trace it in the event it gets stolen.

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