Even the most advanced cars and other vehicles hide a rat’s nest of electronics—hundreds of processors and millions of lines of code that were designed separately but now must work together under the hood for years at a time. Keeping such a hodge-podge of systems updated and free of security vulnerabilities is exceedingly difficult, according to University of Michigan researcher Baris Kasikci. And your car is just the tip of the iceberg. Software vulnerabilities are an even bigger threat on large vehicles like spacecraft and in the autonomous drones and other vehicles that are moving toward widespread use.
“It’s a little bit of a mess,” said Kasikci, a professor of computer science and engineering. “Traditionally, you fix the bug in the source code, you rebuild the software and you redeploy it. But these moving environments are really hostile to that model because there’s a lot of different software and lots of different kinds of computers.”
Kasikci is leading a research team that has just received a $1.8 million grant from DARPA to fix the problem with a system called Ironpatch. Part of DARPA’s $50 million Assured Micropatching Program, the four-year project aims to develop a self-contained patching system to solve the growing problem of security vulnerabilities in cars and large vehicles like trucks and spacecraft. The other researchers on the project include assistant professor Manos Kapritsos, professor Westley Weimer and research fellow Kevin Leach, all in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.