As the car becomes software, securing and accessing data needs to be OEMs’ priority

Software is critical to the future of the car. The data it generates has immense value, but the number of providers can be a stumbling block to access and a security risk. OEMs must be proactive to generate the insights they need while protecting vehicles and their systems.

Whether electric, hybrid or using an internal combustion engine, cars today are less about horsepower and performance than they are about software. Highlighting this are two chief executives: one leading one of the world’s leading established original equipment manufacturers, the other pushing the boundaries of how an OEM can be a disruptor.

First, Ford CEO Jim Farley talked about how much software goes into the average vehicle and the challenges that it can create. In an interview with Everything Electric, Farley explained that “the software is written by…150 companies…so even though it says Ford on the front, I actually have to go to Bosch to get permission to change their seat control software.”

From established player to disruptive innovator

As a traditional OEM, Ford is one of several established car makers going through a transition. They are wrestling with changing customer buying behaviors and new approaches to ownership, the electrification of transport, and the disruptive impact of new OEMs.

And it was Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, that was also recently commenting on the critical nature of software in cars. More specifically, how it could unlock the future of driving. In an interview with CNBC, he talked about how Tesla’s work on autonomous driving meant that “we believe that the car is capable of achieving full autonomy with a software update.”

That point could be closer than many expect. While most of the industry believes that fully autonomous cars, known as Level 5, are at least a decade away, if at all, Musk was more bullish. He said Tesla would have its own ChatGPT moment within the next two years. He said, “If not this year, I’d say no later than next year…three million cars will be able to drive themselves with no one.”

Software on wheels

Whether that’s achievable or not, the fact remains that more and more cars are less vehicle and more software on wheels. With over-the-air updates and even batteries available as a service, the car of the near future will be used and maintained in a very different way to those of even five years ago.

But for all this to work and for innovations such as car-as-a-service, shared mobility, autonomous driving, and in-car voice, chat and video to become a reality, OEMs need to be able to gather, analyze and use a critical element: data.

Right now, all vehicles produce huge volumes of data. In 2014, McKinsey estimated that “today’s car has the computing power of 20 personal computers, features about 100 million lines of programming code, and processes up to 25 gigabytes of data an hour.” Since then, those numbers have undoubtedly increased.

That information is generated by the software cars run on. And here lies the challenge: OEMs need to be able to access that data in real-time to use relevant insights and deliver exceptional traveling experiences. Yet, as Farley pointed out, most OEMs effectively have to ask all their different software providers for data.

And those providers rarely talk to each other. It’s a situation Ford’s Farley called a “loose confederation,” making it very hard for OEMs to get what they need promptly.

Having so many providers also presents another challenge: security. The interconnected nature of today’s car is critical to delivering the experiences drivers and passengers seek, but it also increases the potential surface area for cyberattacks. It’s little wonder that attacks on vehicles and OEMs increased by 225% between 2018 and 2021.

Do it yourself or find another way

So, what’s the answer? Ford’s approach is to bring everything in-house, even though Farley admits the company has never “written software like this, ever…we’re literally writing how the software operates the vehicle for the first time.”

This would allow Ford to control access to the data the software generates and limit the risk of third-party vendors not maintaining the defenses of their applications and services installed in Ford vehicles. Yet very few OEMs have the resources or the capabilities to do this.

An alternative approach could be understanding that they need to be proactive with security and data access. OEMs are using third-party apps and services because the companies building them are the best in their field; there is little value, particularly for mass-market manufacturers, to spend time developing their own streaming platforms if Netflix can be installed instead.

So rather than shut down the use of third-party services, OEMs need to think about ensuring that their approach to security and data access aligns with their software providers. Regarding security, that means embedding it into the application, not having it as a bolt-on, and backing that up with their own monitoring systems and threat intelligence. Penetration testing can also be incorporated to help check that defenses perform as expected, revealing potential weaknesses proactively.

Data access is about working with providers to ensure data is shared in good time. Building a data ecosystem involving leaders in their fields will help OEMs get the information they need while ensuring a deluge of bytes doesn’t wash away OEMs.

The Connected Car is the future of transportation, and Orange Business is the digital connectivity partner for OEMs looking to transform. We have the collective knowledge and expert skills across the company, including Orange Cyberdefense, Ocean Fleet Management and Fluxvision, to support OEMs in achieving their connected-car ambitions.

Take a look at our new eBook on the challenges and solutions shaping driving today, or for a deeper understanding of automotive cybersecurity, read our fact sheet.

Patrick Jeanbart
Patrick Jeanbart

Patrick is Head of Connected Car Vertical, Smart Mobility Services at Orange Business. He has 18 years of experience in the automotive industry, which has allowed him to specialize in management positions in the areas of customer relations, after-sales, financial services and connected services worldwide. His purpose is to enhance these domains thanks to the operational management of cross-cultural teams around the world.