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Israel Aerospace Industries to tackle autonomous vehicle cyber defense challenge

VP & General Manager at IAI-Elta’s Cyber Division, Esti Peshin, goes in depth in a special interview ahead of Cybertech Global TLV

Illustration. BIGSTOCK/Copyright: World_Image
Illustration. BIGSTOCK/Copyright: World_Image

As smart transportation technologies and apps are rapidly evolving, so to cyber threats. In order to face this challenge the Israeli Ministry of Transportation, Israel National Cyber Directorate (INSD), and Ayalon Highways joined forces to build the National Cyber Infrastructure Center for Intelligent Traffic & Transportation Systems (ITS). Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), through its subsidiary company Elta Systems, is leading a consortium to establish and run the center.

This project, build upon a unique model of cooperation between the state and the company which one the national tender, will lead the way for Israel in everything related to organization and preparedness vis-à-vis cyber threats in the smart transportation realm.

The government tender was won by IAI, via Elta, alongside Enigmatos, which specializes in automotive cyber security; Alstom, a leading provider of mass transportation solutions; IBI Group, specializes in testing and managing smart infrastructure; and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which is a strategic research partner.

While 50% of the funding is provided by the state, the consortium is responsible for the other half. “Intelligent transportation is a growing area these days,” says Esti Peshin, VP & General Manager at IAI-Elta’s Cyber Division, in a special interview ahead of the Cybertech Global Tel Aviv conference, to be held between March 1st-3rd, 2022.

National autonomous transportation system

“As far as global transportation technology, we can already see the future. We’re facing a massive current of AI and big data- driven innovation,” explains Peshin.

“Connectivity between automotive, traffic signals, lights and other road sensors, personal transportation systems and mass transportation systems – all will create a world in which cars, trains, buses, turnpikes, traffic lights, and control systems will operate autonomously. And transportation cyber security will become a challenge.”

Peshin explains, that the incorporation of autonomous features in a national transportation system brings about new threats. Hostile nation-states, terrorists, criminals and vandals might change the lives of millions with the push of a button. If a threat actor decides to shut down a traffic light system, for example, an entire city can be paralyzed.

“The potential for damage is great,” says Peshin. “And in addition to intelligent land transportation, there are also the aerial and naval aspects. We’ve been tasked with handling land.

In order to build a complete national cyber defense array, the actors must be mapped. Peshin counts five: drivers / passengers, infrastructure, vehicles, public transportation, and smart city management. All of these components come together under a layer of governmental regulation. “We already know from the cyber sphere that rules, regulations and laws so provide a certain threshold of protection, but cannot stand alone when facing a threat,” says Peshin.

Encouraging cooperation and promoting innovation

The new national center has several goals: encouraging cooperation and sharing of information, providing a testing center testing services and licensing, and promoting innovation. The center is being established in Be’er Sheva, in a new hi-tech compound in the G7 building, near the Gav-Yam compound where Israel’s CERT is also located. A division which will focus on testing vehicles in motion is also being set up in Ashdod, at the Ayalon Highways testing center.

Peshin discloses that work on the center is full steam ahead, and it is expected to be done by the end of the year. Parallel to building, the Israeli Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee is also promoting legislation on autonomous vehicle testing, subsequent legislation to the Government Decision 2316 from 2017.

Esti Peshin, photo courtesy IAI
Esti Peshin, photo courtesy IAI

“The center is getting ready to test automated vehicles already this year, and we have several companies interested in participating in the planned experiments,” says Peshin, adding that at the moment, initial tests are already conducted with one of the consortium’s partners.

In addition, in preparation for the introduction of regulation and as part of the process the Ministry of Transportation is leading with transportation importers, the center will train company execs as “cyber commissioners” and will also prepare to issue the necessary authorizations for the after-market.

One question is whether European emission standard vehicle, which is accepted in Israel, will also be required to test at the center. In other words: will an autonomous vehicle, granted authorization to drive on the roads of Germany or the Netherlands, have to pay for testing in Israel.

Peshin explains, that the cyber center currently employs an initial core of cyber experts in various areas pertaining to intelligent transportation. “We are actively taking on addition cybr experts, so whoever is interested is welcome to speak with us,” she says.

For several years now, IAI has been developing autonomous vehicle solution for the IDF and other militaries around the world. It is safe to assume that the new center will enjoy added value by cooperating with other IAI units.

Another question pertains to the center’s future role in the investigation of accidents in which automated vehicles are involved. In cases that happened in the US with Tesla cars, for example, the manufacturer looked into the software code, together with law enforcement agencies.

It is important to stress that the question of responsibility is open-ended when it comes to autonomous vehicle accidents. Who is to blame? If the driver wasn’t driving, who committed the offense? Israel doesn’t have a law the holds a code responsible.

Also, when discussing accidents, one must ask whether it occurred due to a cyber event. A cyber defense center should be able to answer such a question. Still, it is unclear at the moment whether the new center will have higher abilities than the police. Peshin explains that the center is intended to support regulation, and that “whatever the Knesset or government decide we need to do, we will.”

Are you interested in exporting the idea of such centers oversees?

Peshin explains that two vectors exist in this aspect, the first being cooperation. Additional centers in other countries would contribute to global knowledge. “We’re all for a global ecosystem regarding cyber tests for autonomous vehicles, and we would be happy to cooperate with other countries,” Peshin says. “Israel has a lot to offer in many cyber-related aspects, particularly in the intelligent transportation field.”

The second vector is exporting a model of such a center, whether fully or partially, oversees. “In such a case, we will establish a center in another country – or the state, through us, will ask to establish a center, through an cross-government collaboration agreement,” Peshin concludes.

Esti Peshin will speak at the upcoming Cybertech Global Tel Aviv, to be held (in person!) between March 1–3, 2022. For additional information, please visit the event's official website.

Interview translated from Hebrew by Mandi Kogosowski.

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