Feds ask auto industry to help combat cyberattacks

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

The U.S. Department of Justice’s top national security attorney Tuesday called on the private sector to work with the federal government and law enforcement agencies to fight cyber attacks.

“Sharing information and intelligence between law enforcement is not enough,” said John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security. “With the ingenuity and development taking place in your hands ... the infrastructure of the internet in your hands, to combat threats against it, we’re going to have to work together.

“That means ... telling you what we see in terms of threats and calling on your ingenuity to figure out ways to protect” against them.

Carlin made the remarks during a speech before the Society of Automotive Engineers’ 2016 World Congress at the Cobo Convention Center. More than 11,000 engineers, auto industry executives, consultants, academics, government and military officials are expected to attend the event, which began Tuesday and runs through Thursday.

“What brings me here is this is an industry that’s on the cusp of not just an evolution but a revolution in how are cars operate, how they talk to each other,” he said.

Carlin said experts estimate more than 220 million vehicles will be able to connect to the internet by the year 2020.

The technology has the potential to save lives, but warned terrorists will exploit its weaknesses and use it to do harm, he added.

“Within each of those cars will be hundreds of different systems, each essentially computers in the car, and connected wirelessly,” he said. “What we can see based on the threats we’ve seen in other industries and other areas is those who oppose our values — be they rogue nation states or terrorist groups — are looking to exploit this change in technology.”

As head of the attorney general’s national security division, Carlin oversees a staff of nearly 400 that handles international and domestic terrorism cases, espionage, cybercrime and other security threats.

Adam Dyba, 33, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said Carlin’s speech was thought-provoking.

“I think we forget when we design a system how vulnerabilities can be exploited,” said the senior in mechanical engineering at the University of New Mexico. “We forget to look at how people could use the technology for ulterior motives. It was interesting to hear it from someone who deals with it.”

Carlin spent the day in Detroit, meeting with U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and a dozen of her federal prosecutors who are all part of the Justice Department’s National Security team in the Eastern District of Michigan.

“You have one of the country’s leaders in Barb McQuade on national security threats. She leads the national group of U.S. attorneys who think about these issues and come up with new ways to confront them,” said Carlin, referencing the work of McQuade and her team on convicted terrorist and underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Abdulmutallab is serving a life sentence at the Supermax federal prison in Colorado for trying to blow up a plane over Metro Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underwear.

On Tuesday afternoon, Carlin and McQuade were heading up a roundtable discussion in Metro Detroit with auto industry officials as well as tier-one suppliers to discuss preventative cyber security.


(313) 222-2058

Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed to this report.