Jay Vijayan, CIO, Tesla Motors
While many in the automotive industry would probably like to forget 2015, one car maker stood out above the rest when it came to protecting its vehicles from cyberthreats, Tesla Motors.
Much of the credit for Tesla's ability to ride out the wave of cyber problems that confronted car makers is rightly credited to the company's chief information officer (CIO), Jay Vijayan.
The Palo Alta, Calif.-based auto maker's test came in early August when researchers from the cybersecurity firms Lookout and Cloudflare found a flaw in the plug-in electric car Tesla Model S, enabling them to crack into the system and turn off and stop the car when it is driving at slow speed. What set Tesla off from the other car makers, who also found themselves on the receiving end of being hacked, was its amazingly quick response.
Under Vijayan's direction, Tesla's IT organization patched the hole so quickly that most news reports on the incident cited the flaw being found in the same sentence as the issue being repaired. Additionally, most of the initial report from the guys who were able to hack the Tesla, Kevin Mahaffey and Marc Rogers, focused on how hard it was to complete their task.
The fact that Vijayan's crew was able to work so quickly should come as no surprise as he was the person who – during the company's early period and rapid growth phase – laid the foundation systems architecture, called Warp, and built all the core corporate applications and systems infrastructure for Tesla.
“As a business, we had to move extremely fast and also be agile for catalyzing a fundamental change in the automotive industry,” Vijayan told CIOInsight.com, explaining how he decided to create from scratch Tesla's in-house system. "IT function had the task to enable the business to be operating with the highest speed and agility. To do that, we needed a business operations software/ERP system that is simple, lightweight and flexible enough to satisfy our core business needs.
By having a tech suite tailored to the company, Tesla was able to avoid the medium-sized list of car makers that had their vehicle cybersecurity systems penetrated this summer by researchers. Leading the pack of hackable cars was Fiat Chrysler. A pair of researchers was able to exploit a zero-day vulnerability to remotely control the vehicle's engine, transmission, wheels and brakes, among other systems, by attacking the vehicle through its infotainment system. The end result was a recall of 1.4 million Jeep Cherokees.
Another factor working in Tesla's favor is its size and the fact that it has only one product to worry about.
“Tesla is smaller and has only one model so it was easier to make changes and it can make over-the-air [software] updates which the other manufactures can't do,” says Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at the car buying website Edmunds.com.
Warp enables the over-the-air updates and it can be used to cure any number of problems that arise with a vehicle. Vijayan even told the Wall Street Journal of an incident where a customer noted that his Model S rolled backward slightly when stopped on a hill after the accelerator was pressed. On Vijayan's order, the patch fixing the issue was created and the tech team set it to be fed to all Tesla vehicles. The next day, the CIO saw the patch download on his own Tesla.
Vijayan, who graduated with a master of science from the University of Madras in India, has been Tesla's CIO for just over three years. Prior to that, he was at the company for just under a year as vice president, IT and business applications. He began his path to Tesla in 2000, when he was brought on as senior manager, applications development – Fusion for Oracle in 2000 before moving on to VMware in 2007 where he was director of IT enterprise applications and then senior director for that division.
In 2015, Car and Driver magazine acclaimed the Model S as Car of the Century. – Doug Olenick