Summer Fowler

A New Kind of Safety Feature: Taking Cybersecurity Seriously As We Develop Self-Driving Cars

We are seeing an explosion of connectivity in our lives, with everything from our phones and cameras to our washing machines being imbued with the power of the internet – even connected toasters are a thing now. This same movement is happening in the automotive world, where self-driving vehicles, especially, will rely heavily on connectivity to operate efficiently out in the world.

As we continue, in collaboration with Ford, to work towards developing self-driving vehicles that are ready for commercial operation in 2021, it’s not enough to just keep developing the technology that will power these vehicles.

We must also protect it.

That’s why we’re welcoming Summer Craze Fowler as Argo AI’s chief security officer. Summer is joining Argo from the CERT Cybersecurity Division of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where she has worked since 2007 and served as technical director for Cybersecurity Risk and Resilience. She will be taking on a critical role at Argo that involves defining and implementing our cybersecurity strategy for both our self-driving vehicles and our internal systems.

When we think about self-driving cars being a trusted part of our daily lives and the critical infrastructure needed to support these vehicles, there’s no getting around the fact that cybersecurity plays an essential role in their success. Given the potentially wide-ranging safety benefits they will provide, we must ensure that the software we’re depending on to transport our families and our belongings is resilient in the face of potential attacks or mistakes. To do this, we need to employ the full spectrum of tools, processes, and resources to the design and development of autonomous vehicles, and secure them from the threats posed to any of the supporting systems that exist in our world today.

In her new role at Argo, Summer will bring to bear all of her past experience in cybersecurity and operational resilience. One way this takes shape is in helping us build vehicles that are resilient, able to anticipate problems that may occur, and capable of handling those issues in graceful ways. Just as a self-driving vehicle needs to be able to anticipate applying the brakes in the event of an unexpected physical situation, the self-driving system also needs to be able to anticipate issues with software – and know how to respond safely.

“Ensuring that self-driving vehicles are resilient enough to withstand both malicious attacks and unintended software issues – and continue to operate safely even in the event of interference – is crucial to their successful deployment,” Summer tells me. “These vehicles have the potential to reduce fatalities and improve safety on the streets, and joining Argo is an enormous opportunity for me to help make sure they live up to their potential.”

In her time at CMU, Summer led a team of 60 cybersecurity engineers who focused their work in three key areas: critical infrastructure protection, cybersecurity risk management and insider threat challenges. She also helped develop and teach cybersecurity education programs for corporate board directors and senior executives, and she taught CMU graduate students incybersecurity policy and governance. Summer is extremely active in the community as a speaker and advisor advocating for cybersecurity as an enterprise function.

Prior to joining CMU, Summer served as a technical project manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where she led a team that worked with the Pentagon on issues related to information assurance. She also spent five years at Northrop Grumman Corporation as a software engineer focused on tactical ground systems and situational awareness tools for the U.S. military. Summer holds a Master of Science in Information Science and Telecommunications and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Pittsburgh.

Hiring a chief security officer is an important step we’re taking to incorporate cybersecurity as part of our self-driving system platform. With Summer as part of Argo, we will build a team and create software that ensures our self-driving vehicle system is among the safest and most secure in the world.

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