Cybersecurity centre for self-driving vehicles heads to University of Windsor

A new centre out of the University of Windsor will be the first of its kind in Canada to tackle cybersecurity issues in self-driving vehicles. 

Centre tackles infrastructure and data security around autonomous vehicles

Two professors at the University of Windsor have founded a centre based on developing skills and policies to protect the data and infrastructure of self-driving vehicles. (Eric Risberg/The Associated Press)

A new centre out of the University of Windsor will be the first of its kind in Canada to tackle cybersecurity issues in self-driving vehicles, according to the school. 

SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence is a space that seeks to understand the vulnerabilities in the hardware and software used in autonomous vehicles. In return, the centre will develop policies and skills to protect the data being collected. 

One of the centre's founders and directors Mitra Mirhassani said people "have to be worried," about the data being collected and the ways in which it could impact them. 

"Right now if you are driving a car or anything like that don't worry. But pretty soon, we have to all be sure that the devices and everything that we have are basically you know secure somehow," said Mirhassani, who is also a professor in UWindsor's Electrical and Computer Engineering department. 

Hacking a car's system and stealing its data are of top concern. 

Mitra Mirhassani (left) and Ikjot Saini (right) are SHIELD's founders and directors. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

In particular, SHIELD's other founder and director Ikjot Saini, from UWindsor's School of Computer Science, said someone could easily find out the vehicle's location. 

The system built into the vehicle records the person's trips, allowing someone to figure out what that person's home or workplace address are, she said. 

"What happens if somebody is passively listening to all this information and recording it?" said Saini. "So that's a lot of information ... that puts you in a place where you are losing control on your personal information because it becomes mandatory for your safety." 

And at this time, she said that data can't be encrypted. 

LISTEN: APMA president Flavio Volpe talks about the partnership

Cyber threats have evolved to include your car. We hear about a partnership betweein the University of Windsor and Auto parts manufacturers' to keep your car safe. 7:51

For this reason, she said they are working on privacy and security designs in the vehicles. 

"[We] work on solutions to bring level of privacy or anonymization, so it's difficult to identify who is going where," she said. 

And part of that is to develop policies that will keep people protected. 

"We identified a big gap between where we are and where the policy makers and government entities are," said Mirhassani. "One of our strong mandates is to close that gap and come up with policies that are Canadian made and are suitable for Canada." 

This week, the Automotive Parts Manufacturer's Association (APMA) partnered with the centre to help guide and inform its research. 

APMA president Flavio Volpe says they will closely work with SHIELD to connect it to members in the industry. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

APMA president Flavio Volpe said the organization will work closely with the centre, beyond providing funding. 

"It would be really easy for us to write a cheque and then say to them 'good luck,'" Volpe said. 

"The fact of the matter is what they need is access to the type of companies and networks that we have and a very indepth and practical understanding of how those companies are connected." 

But he said it also ensures that APMA is at the forefront of this evolving technology. 

"We're one of the global leaders in automotive manufacturing and as the product evolves and the customers' relationship with the product evolves and, let's be real, regulators' relationship with the product evolves, if we're not in it in every single layer and in the layers that have the most vulnerabilities and we allow those standards to be set around the world, places other than here, those production mandates are going to go somewhere else as well," he said. 


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