Our Editorial: Keep moving on cyber security

The Detroit News

Michigan has a unique opportunity to be a leader in cyber security. As the automotive industry continues to develop driverless cars, and as regulators develop a highway infrastructure to carry them, the state’s business community can be out front in research and development to meet the growing threat of cyber attacks.

Despite other pressing issues the state is dealing with, cyber security must remain a priority for lawmakers and for the private sector. If autonomous vehicles are going to take hold with the public, the issue of hacking must be resolved. A congressional hearing addressed this Tuesday, and the issue will become a key component of the evolution of driverless vehicles.

In addition, that’s what the Detroit Regional Chamber and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce together focused on at an event last week in Detroit.

“With the emergence of connected and driverless vehicle technology, no place in the country has the potential to be affected by cyber security as much as Michigan,” said Tammy Carnrike, chief operating officer of the regional chamber. “Innovations in cyber security will protect Michigan’s economy while offering opportunity to grow another dynamic industry in our region.”

As Detroit battles Silicon Valley to keep the brains of driverless cars here, developing enhanced cyber defenses is critical. The hacking of a Jeep Cherokee last year by technology researchers unveiled just how fragile vehicle systems connected to and dependent on the Internet can be. FCA US had to recall almost one and a half million Jeeps for the technological flaw, which allowed the researchers to gain control of actual functions of the vehicles, including the engine, brakes and steering.

The threat will increase once drivers are completely hands-off in their cars and relying on external systems to drive them on crowded, busy highways. General Motors Co. earlier this year began a program that welcomes hackers to look for cyber vulnerabilities in its vehicles, websites and software, as long as they agree to certain guidelines that protect customers, keep the vulnerabilities between themselves and the company and don’t break any laws. Tesla Motors Inc. actually pays researchers to find soft spots before outside hackers do.

Cyber security provides a perfect avenue for public-private partnerships, and Detroit’s Big Three should seize the moment to work with federal regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on developing the new regulatory environment. The industry already pledged during this year’s North American International Auto Show to work collaboratively with each other and the government on enhancing automotive cyber security.

The state of Michigan, too, has played a leading role in developing advanced IT and cyber security defenses within the state’s open data portal. The state deals with about two million individual attacks every day.

Gov. Rick Snyder and his technology team developed a Cyber Disruption Response Plan to aid the state response in case of attacks as well as the Michigan Cyber Initiative, which discusses public-private efforts and how Michigan will continue to lead on this issue.

Stopping cyber threats saves money — the global impact of cyber crime is more than $375 billion annually — and protects citizens’ data and identity. Michigan and its most important industry should commit to leading on cyber security, particularly in the transportation segment.