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Cybersecurity Concerns Could Stop Self-Driving Cars in their Tracks

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Fourth-Generation Cruise AV

The increasing intelligence of today’s cars is impressive. As the likes of Tesla, Google, GM and BMW push the boundaries, our cars are becoming more advanced than ever. However, alongside these innovations come a number of risks. In recent months, we’ve seen how autonomous settings aren’t quite up to scratch in certain situations. Although the statistics suggest that computerized drivers are able to react and process data more efficiently than humans, the sample size is small. As Peter Hancock, a professor at the University of Central Florida, has pointed out, we need to know the non-collision rates for self-driving cars before we can say they’re safer. In other words, we need to identify the ratio of crashes to trips for humans and autonomous vehicles to really see which is safer.

Web logins pose a risk for drivers

While internal errors are the burning issue right now, manufacturers are also considering a bigger problem. With modern cars essentially being computers with wheels, cybercrime is set to become the next frontier. Most smart cars allow for logins through apps or web interfaces to control certain secondary aspects remotely. But attacks aren’t uncommon in this area at all. Arguably, web application attacks have the potential to cause the most destruction when it comes to smart car security. If a web application isn’t coded properly or isn’t protected by a web application firewall (WAF), it opens up the individual car, or even an entire fleet of them, to outside interference. For any internet-connected application, a WAF forms the first line of defense against a range of attacks. From cross-site scripting to remote file inclusion and SQL injections, each intrusion is designed to remotely disrupt a service. In the case of smart cars, this becomes a problem when you take into account self-driving options.

Although smart cars aren’t autonomous by definition, self-driving vehicles are smart cars. This means they’re connected to the internet and, therefore, just as vulnerable to web application attacks as any other connected device. With this being true, manufacturers now need to protect drivers from attacks that could allow criminals to take control of a driver’s car and move it in any way they wish. Essentially, people’s lives could be at risk if cars with autonomous driving options aren’t protected from such cyber attacks. In a bid to set the standard, the U.K. government has published a report that encourages car manufacturers to make cybersecurity a priority. According to U.K. Transport Minister Lord Callanan, the report is intended to devise a “consistent set of guidelines” across the entire supply chain. From the main manufacturer to third-party providers, the leading companies need to ensure that drivers are protected from all angles.

Regulations will drive industry’s fortunes forward

In fact, when you take a wider perspective on the issue, there’s more to automotive security than stopping criminals from controlling someone’s car. Although that’s by far the most pressing concern, there is also the issue of data protection. As we’ve said, smart cars don’t have to be self-driving vehicles. What they are, however, data collection points. In the first instance, personal details linked to s0meone’s car’s online account could be stolen. Beyond that, tracking data would allow criminals to determine a person’s location and carry out an attack on them or their empty home, for example. In other words, data protection is also something manufacturers are being forced to look at. Following Barack Obama’s $4 billion investment, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published its guidelines on car security. As well as addressing the problem of hacking self-driving cars, the guidelines aimed to address smart car data security. With other governments now following suit, the market for smart car security is starting to evolve.

As vehicles become more connected, this is important. Otherwise, unlike most other forms of cybercrime, such attacks can even put our health at risk.

Ben Thomas

After graduating with a BSc in accounting and finance from the University of Leeds, I decided to pursue my childhood love of motors and writing. Numbers, words, and cars are my three great passions that were passed down from my parents.