How this startup is using AI to secure the automotive industry from cyber threats

Started in 2018, California-headquartered startup SecureThings.ai is tapping AI and Machine Learning to address cybersecurity challenges in the automotive industry.
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The automotive industry is in the midst of a massive digital transformation, with connected vehicles, autonomous driving features, electrification, and other mobility services revolutionising the sector. 

From opening the vehicle lock, controlling vehicle features through smartphones, and having infotainment systems, to sensors like cruise control or GPS driven geofencing, vehicles are now more software-driven. 

In India, the automotive and manufacturing industries are gradually evolving to the concept of Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0.

Internet of Things-enabled devices in the automotive space are evolving faster than the security features developed to protect them, leading to a critical gap between product development and security enhancement. 

This threat makes each one of the 1.6 billion vehicles on the road, connected or non-connected, vulnerable, be it a commercial vehicle, passenger vehicle, two-wheeler, or farming vehicle. 

Realising the problem and the massive need, Vishal Bajpai launched Secure Things in 2018. The startup is headquartered in California and has an R&D centre in Pune.

The inception

While working with Symantec in the US, Vishal was pulled in to address a peculiar problem with a client in the automotive industry. 

Having led enterprise products earlier, including cybersecurity and data protection, and due to his long association in managing innovation-related forums and Symantec's patent filter committee, Vishal was picked to address the problem. 

During 2015-17, Vishal worked closely with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) as well as with top OEMs based in the US, and realised the intricacies of the real threat to the automotive sector from cyberattacks. 

This was the time when automotive cyberattacks had started haunting vehicle manufacturers. By knowing the real problem, getting first-hand information on challenges being faced by the manufacturers, and the lack of comprehensive protection solutions, Vishal decided to solve this global problem that can cause billions of dollars of loss to the automotive industry. 

He concluded that these cybersecurity challenges could be addressed effectively using the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

 

And, SecureThings.ai was born.

“The journey since 2018 has been packed with a lot of satisfaction - helping automotive manufacturers, suppliers, and service providers in address their major risks, originating from evolution towards a connected, autonomous, and shared electric industry,” Vishal tells YourStory.

What it solves for?

Cybersecurity is critical for electric vehicles. Battery swapping and charging infrastructure can create a new set of cyber threats for manufacturers as well as end customers.

For operational efficiency and agility, vehicle manufacturers need to allow software updates over-the-air, which is also a big threat. 

5G is another tech revolution that is connecting all infrastructure and can pose a big cyber threat.

Considering the many threats, regulatory bodies are making automotive cybersecurity mandatory.

SecureThings.ai is solving this problem by providing 360-degree protection. The startup uses machine learning and AI to provide edge security. 

Speaking about the solution, Vishal says, “We provide real-time protection to vehicles. The protection will work even if the vehicle loses connectivity. This is a software-based solution that can protect passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, farming vehicles, or two-wheelers.

"We have protection for different layers in the vehicle, right from the connectivity layer and vehicle component level to the entire in-vehicle network and the core hardware and wiring harness layer." 

“We are only a provider, offering solutions across these layers. These solutions can be sold separately as well as a bundle to provide stronger protection. The layers can communicate with each other to provide insight and that's our differentiation as well.”

He adds that two additional layers in the cloud provide trusted mobility and 24x7 threat intelligence to manufacturers.

“We have a blockchain-based over-the-air solution that provides very strong security, from the cloud server to the vehicle gateway. These six layers of protection provide complete assurance to the vehicle ecosystem,” he adds.

Image Credits: YS Design team

The market opportunity 

Automotive cybersecurity is a very niche market. The UN passed two new regulations last year on cybersecurity and software updates for connected vehicles. 

Automotive cybersecurity being a global problem, it witnessed $7.23 billion opportunity in 2021 and is projected to reach $32.41 billion by 2030.

Vishal says, “Due to evolving consumer choices, feature innovation, and for cost amortisations, we are finding fast adoption of technologies like Android OS in critical subsystems by a large number of new EV two-wheeler OEMs as well as traditional ones. This is even when a very high number of vulnerabilities are being reported every year for such opensource technologies.

“Another trend is deep integration of mobility services (cab bookings, ride hailing, deliveries, and self-drive car rentals) and OEM-provided vehicles. Many of these mobility services are found to be vulnerable to cascaded attacks. OEMs with global origins are far more aware of the dangers of cyber-attack realities and bringing cyber protection even to their Indian products.” 

Without disclosing its clients, the startup says it is working with many marquee vehicle manufacturers as well as component suppliers. 

“We are proud to be associated with a few prestigious programmes, where along with a seasoned, like-minded Tier I partner we are bringing a secure telematics solution. One of these programmes will be going into production later this year and will be India’s first truly cybersafe vehicle. Seeing our value addition, regulatory bodies in India have involved us in the process to define automotive cybersecurity guidelines for the domestic market”, Vishal adds.

SecureThings.ai’s innovative 5G V2X protection offering is also recognised by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). The startup is among the top 30 winners of 5G Hackathon Phase 2. It is also in talks with telecommunication providers for pilot projects in the 5G space.

Funding and the way ahead

The close association and discoveries mentioned earlier regarding SecureThings.ai’s customers were entirely driven out of India and carried out by a 20+ strong security engineering team; this team is seeing a fast ramp-up with the help of the recent funding round. The customer success team is expected to reach 30+ in next few quarters to continue customising solutions to meet the differentiation requirements of customers. The product engineering team has already “reached a critical mass”.

Backed by investors like Inflexor Ventures, 9Unicorns, RPG Ventures, SAB Holdings, and various UHNIs, the startup has so far raised $4.4 million. Apart from this, the founder has also made a personal investment of $600,000.

India and the US are strategic markets, and the startup is now planning to expand to Europe. 

While there are no other prominent independent automotive cybersecurity providers in India, Argus Cybersecurity, Karamba Security, and Upstream Security are among the major international players in this space.

Edited by Megha Reddy

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