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Authentication critical in cars, GM exec says

Authentication critical in cars, GM exec says

Authentication is a key problem to solve before use of the Internet in cars can reach its full potential, General Motors Chief Technology Officer Anthony Scott said here Monday at the Supercomm conference.

The owner of a car may not always be the driver, and some Internet-based services for cars may require information about passengers as well as the driver, Scott said at a plenary session on challenges for enterprise networks that also included executives from United Parcel Service (UPS) and Electronic Data Systems. As a result, it will be important to give drivers and passengers tools for identifying themselves and verifying their identity with providers of in-car services.

"We think this is one of the major barriers to getting good use of Internet in the vehicle," Scott said.

Judging from the unwieldy multiple log-in procedures that have become necessary to secure services on the wired Internet, in-car services will require simple and unified systems such as that proposed by the Liberty Alliance, in which GM is participating, Scott said. The Liberty Alliance was formed last year by Sun Microsystems, GM, American Express and other companies with a stake in online transactions. It aims to create an open, interoperable system for digital identity that will let any number of vendors provide different security systems that work together.

One example of a possible car-based Internet system that could use authentication is emergency response via GM's OnStar car communications system. If an airbag inflates in a vehicle with OnStar, operators are notified and can call emergency personnel in the area to respond. The operators can also pass on medical information that the driver has provided for that purpose, to help medical teams treat the driver. However, that information isn't useful unless OnStar knows for sure who is driving the car and who is riding in it, Scott said.

Security was also raised as on ongoing problem by Kenneth Lacy, senior vice president and chief information officer at UPS.

"I think there are as many people out there trying to take us down as there are trying to keep us up," Lacy quipped.

Another problem UPS faces is the need to select long term, global telecommunications partners in a time of bankruptcies and consolidation among service providers.

UPS, which has about 70,000 wireless handheld devices in use around the world, will continue to use new wireless technologies to make its business run better, Lacy said. The company is in the process of deploying about 15,000 GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) high-speed wireless handhelds in Europe, and plans to use Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11b wireless LANs to let employees link their barcode scanners with other IT equipment without using wires. The short-range connectivity technologies will let UPS link the many different kinds of scanners and other gear UPS has in the field, as well as improving ergonomics for employees and boosting productivity, Lacy said.

UPS today spends about 1 percent of its annual gross revenue on telecommunications, he added. The cost of services keeps declining, but its use keeps growing, so telecommunications costs are increasing for UPS, Lacy said.

Supercomm continues through Thursday.


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