The auto industry is marshaling resources to develop ways to defend cars and trucks from cyber attacks.

Even though there are no known major cyber attacks on vehicles, industry insiders say the threat is growing. A panel of experts gathered at Delphi Automotive headquarters in Troy, Michigan to discuss the growing threat.

“Compared with cars and trucks of a decade ago, our cars and trucks are staggeringly complex,” said Lisa McCauley, vice president and general manager for Battelle Cyber Innovations, a nonprofit research organization.

Today’s new cars are chock-full of computer chips, sensors and nano-technology that can be controlled by up to 100,000 lines of software code.

Andrew Brown, Delphi vice president and chief technologist, said it would be difficult for a hacker to break into a car’s infotainment systems remotely.

But for a hacker who’s familiar with the software it’s a different story.

“If you can get that sort of access, almost anyone could break into the system,” Brown said. “Without that, it is very difficult.”

By 2017 more than 60% of cars and trucks will be connected to the Internet.

Automakers, along with suppliers ranging from Sprint to Microsoft, continue to develop more complex information and entertainment systems.

But there is no single policy or set of industry standards to govern the security of those systems.

That’s why Delphi, Battelle, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers, have formed a coalition to study cybersecurity issues.

On July 1 the two associations sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They are working on a solution that would enable automakers, suppliers and others to share information about cybersecurity threats.

“It is very important that we have an industry-wide approach to addressing cybersecurity issues,” Brown said. “It needs to be consistent across the industry as opposed to having separate sets of protocols.”

One issue to resolve who should be involved in the effort. Phone manufacturers, including Apple and Samsung, are not part of the coalition yet. The interaction between smartphones and vehicle infotainment systems is viewed as the biggest threat to security, Brown said.

With those phones, Brown said, hackers “could potentially take control of the safety critical systems. That’s what we want to avoid.”

©2014 the Detroit Free Press