VW, Ex-Israeli Spy Chief Team Up On Cybersecurity
Marc Stern's picture

Volkswagen Teams With Ex-Israeli Spy Chief To Stop Vehicle Hacks

With all of the security threats around the world, it makes sense to team with the best in prevention. VW has done just that by working in partnership with a former head of the country's Shin Bet spy service. The partnership is aimed at preventing vehicle hacking.

Have you ever wondered what former spies do when they retire from the spy business? It is an easy one: they open spy firms, or at least something that looks like their former line of work. That must be why the automotive world is buying up start-ups connected with former active members of the Israeli security services.

Jerusalem is rapidly becoming the headquarters of a burgeoning new industry, cybersecurity. Though cybersecurity has been around as long as there have been computers and people who try to hack them, the latest round of cybersecurity-connected firms starting up in and around this ancient city is mind-boggling when you think about it. International companies such as Harman Industries and IBM have snapped up Israeli cybersecurity start-ups, and they have settled into quarters in this general area.

Former Shin Bet Chief

The latest firm to set up shop with a former spy is Volkswagen. Going with a superstar in the spy field, VW has teamed up with Yuval Diskin, former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency to develop cybersecurity for connected vehicles – Internet-connected cars and self-driving (autonomous) vehicles.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the partners announced the creation of CyMotive Technologies. Its goal is making the Internet secure. Diskin and two former Israeli intelligence colleagues, both of whom held senior posts in Shin Bet, will hold 60 percent of the company, while VW will keep 40 percent.

Volkswagen neither indicated its investment in the start-up nor did it state how much it will invest in the venture as it goes forward. The optimism surrounding the plan must be high because CyMotive not only is headquartered in Jerusalem, but it also has an office near Tel Aviv. The company will open another office near VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, a Reuters report noted Wednesday.

Israel, a longtime U.S. ally and leader in the intelligence field, has emerged as the de facto leader in the race to keep hackers out of vehicles. Building on the country’s security assets, Israel has become the go-to state for the auto industry as it works to keep cars secure and prevent the terrifying possibility of hackers commandeering vehicles.

That such takeovers are possible was vividly illustrated by a pair of researchers who hacked into a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and controlled it while the terrified driver waited for the sickening crunch of an 18-wheeler smashing the SUV. Of course, they did not let that outcome occur but the Wired writer who described his time as a behind-the-wheel guinea pig didn’t know that at when he saw the tractor-trailer bearing down on him on an Interstate. The Wired piece in July 2015 spells out the potential outcomes if hackers were to take control of a car or multiple cars. CyMotive is there to prevent this occurrence, in the first place.

Called A Key Partnership

Volkmar Tanneberger, head of electrical and electronic development at VW, emphasized the importance of its partnership in CyMotive when he said that it would “enable us to tackle the enormous challenges of the next decade.”

Those challenges require that automakers like VW “expand our know-how in cybersecurity in order to systematically advance vehicle cyber security for our customers,” Tanneberger concluded.

Diskin isn’t a newcomer to cybersecurity consulting. He has been a consultant in the field since retiring from Shin Bet in 2011. He is CyMotive’s chair.

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