TrustPoint Innovation Technologies: securing the connected car

TrustPoint Innovation Technologies had barely opened its doors in September 2012, when it got a call from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Would the Waterloo, Ontario-based company sign on as the security consultant for the department’s upcoming roll-out of V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) crash avoidance systems?

President and CEO Sherry Shannon-Vanstone didn’t need to think twice.

“The potential market is enormous – 17 million vehicles a year are produced in the U.S.— so getting in on the ground floor would clearly give us a leg-up.”

But how had this small Ontario firm come to the department’s attention?

An impressive track record in security technology

The fact is that TrustPoint’s team has years of experience in implementing security for worldwide deployments for global companies. TrustPoint grew out of Certicom, a spinoff from the University of Waterloo, which had created BlackBerry’s much-vaunted security.

“Almost every smartphone today uses the security technology we invented at Certicom,” says Shannon-Vanstone.

Certicom had also worked in the automotive field, most notably with GM and its OnStar system, so TrustPoint was well positioned to provide critical advice on how to build in security for the connected car.

“Until recently, security has tended to be an afterthought, because companies were focused on application,” explains Shannon-Vanstone. “But in today’s environment, ‘bolt-on’ security is not the way to go and the U.S. Department of Transportation and major OEMs recognize that. They also understand that building in security from the start adds a layer of complexity in the product design and development stages that’s best left to experts like us.”

The technology that TrustPoint developed and commercialized for the connected car is called Elliptic Curve Cryptography and it allows vehicles to communicate securely with each other and with the infrastructure around them. Shannon-Vanstone estimates that 80% of motor vehicle collisions will be prevented by using secure V2V technology.

A diagram of a driverless car showing possible wireless lines of attack
TrustPoint’s security will prevent hacks and attacks on autonomous cars

Ontario offers firms like TrustPoint an all-important culture of innovation

Although she is an American who began her career as a cryptologic mathematician with the U.S. government, Shannon-Vanstone is bullish on Ontario and its culture of innovation.

“Ontario is a hotspot for mathematicians, computer scientists and software engineers. The universities of Waterloo and Toronto in particular give us access to tremendous, well-educated talent, and we take full advantage by hiring co-op students every year.”

On the front lines of connected car technology

Shannon-Vanstone is also quick to point out that Ontario has a large and thriving automotive industry. Five global OEMs and 700-plus parts manufacturers operate along a 400-kilometre corridor that includes 24 publicly-funded university research centres driving advances in every area of connected and autonomous car R&D. Furthermore, Ontario is right next door to the automotive decision-makers in Michigan.

Ontario also has a real-world autonomous vehicle testing site in the “smart” city of Stratford, where TrustPoint is currently trying out its technology.

“It’s a very exciting time to be in the auto industry and particularly here in Ontario where we’re on the front lines of connected car technology.”

TrustPoint’s security technology will make its debut in the 2017 GM Cadillac CTS.

“It’s just the start. Cadillac CTS vehicles will only be able to communicate with each other, but we expect that by as early as 2020, all new cars manufactured in the U.S. and Canada will be equipped with systems that can communicate with everything around them.”

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