My Car Quest

December 12, 2017

Should We Worry About Hacking Of Autonomous Cars?

by Scott Huntington –

Self-driving, autonomous cars are the wave of the future — the perfect example of science fiction becoming science fact. Technology giants like Google and Tesla have been leading the way, producing either completely autonomous cars or vehicles with partial autopilot abilities — like the Tesla electric cars.

As more and more cars are getting networked, a new worry has started to manifest itself — car hacking. Is this something we need to worry about as more self-driving cars hit the road, or is it an overblown fear that should probably remain classified as science fiction?

Concept of self-driven car from the 1950's

Concept of self-driven cars from the 1950’s – Source: original unknown

One Example of Car Hacking

In 2015, security researchers demonstrated a security flaw in a Jeep Cherokee being driven by a Wired writer. From the comfort of their couch, more than 10 miles away, the two ‘hackers’ were able to mess with the AC, windshield wipers, radio before shutting off the engine while the Cherokee was being driven down the highway. More than 1.4 million cars were recalled after that demo to have anti-hacking software installed.

Now, this specific vulnerability was patched almost as soon as it was discovered, but it shows the potential dangers of connected or autonomous cars.

It’s important to note, though, that this is currently one of the only practical examples of car hacking, and it was done in a controlled environment. There have been no reported incidents of car hacking on the roads as of the time of this writing, so why are so many people worried about it?

A Hypothetical Threat

Right now, car hacking is primarily a hypothetical threat — largely because of the sheer level of technological know-how that is required to pull off this kind of hack.

However, it doesn’t always require hacking knowledge to interfere with the car’s self-driving systems. Low-tech solutions, such as a high-power laser pointer, can be used to interfere with the car’s LIDAR sensors that are required for it to operate safely.

By targeting the LIDAR sensors with a laser pointer or other LED, a cybersecurity analyst was able to trick a self-driving car into thinking an object was there, when it actually wasn’t, or vice versa. This could potentially cause self-driving cars to crash, either because they’re trying to avoid an object that isn’t there, or they believe the way is clear and continue driving when there’s an obstacle in their path.

Some self-driving software causes the car to stop completely if the cameras or LIDAR sensors they rely on are unable to correctly view the road — which could potentially leave the driver open to being robbed or carjacked.

Now, this is all hypothetical. Most of the cars on the road today are still low-tech enough that they couldn’t be hacked even if the best hacker on Earth tried — but that is changing every year.

Google self-driven car - Source: Google

Google self-driven car – Source: Google

The Future of Self-Driving Cars and Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity for self-driving cars will become paramount as more and more of them roll off the assembly line.

The first thing that all self-driving car manufacturers need to do is to shore up the security of their systems. Employing hackers and security analysts allows them to find and patch potential security vulnerabilities before they ever become actual problems.

Self-driving cars can potentially save thousands of lives if they become mainstream. Industry experts project that upwards of 30,000 lives could be saved every year if human error was removed from the driving process. We just have to make sure self-driving car manufacturers are willing to ensure their cars and associated networks are as secure as possible before the cars become mainstream.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

 
 
Scott Huntington

 
THE AUTHOR: Scott Huntington is an automotive journalist from Harrisburg, PA. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or check out his site, Off The Throttle.
 
 

 

 

February 22, 1959 Edition of Closer Than We Think

February 22, 1959 edition of Closer Than We Think

Summary
Should We Worry About Hacking Of Autonomous Cars?
Article Name
Should We Worry About Hacking Of Autonomous Cars?
Description
As more and more cars are getting networked, a new worry has started to manifest itself — car hacking. Should we be worried?
Author

Comments

  1. OF COURSE WE SHOULD WORRY ABOUT HACKING! Our PCs and cell phones get hacked ALL the time, often without our knowledge. If and when that day arrives, when a significant percentage of general traffic consists of Autonomous vehicles – and terrorism goes cyber – we won’t have to fear human error but the threat of cyber terrorists that hijack control of multiple autonomous vehicles and cause horror we have not yet seen.

    I suspect that the race that many car manufacturers have been involved in, to see who gets an autonomous vehicle into mass production first, is about keeping investors happy more than it is about getting the technology actually out there. I say this because I believe that the OEMs in question are intelligent enough to FEAR the possible consequences of releasing mass produced autonomous vehicles on our roads.

    If nothing else, NOW is definitely the time to consider ethical hacking as a career with FANTASTIC employment prospects for decades to come!

  2. I am not at all worried about hacking of cars, autonomous or otherwise. However there is an element of the “new horizons” approaching in the autonomous or self driving vehicle future. Government control. Consider when the government (any government) decides that they will shut down the cars because of a political agenda. Our individualism is more vulnerable now than it has ever been. Nope, give me a car with manual controls that require a mind to operate. I would rather be a rebel than a sheep.

  3. wallace wyss says:

    The first shot my have already been fired, back in 2013 A far left friend of mine insists the first person whose hacked car killed him is investigative journalist Michael Hastings, ironically a critic of Obama (now I am sure my friend would be more certain that Trump was involved if an administration critic died). Hastings hit a tree at 90 mph. But I would have to know how many functions of Hastings’ car, a 2013 Mercedes C250, were controlled electronically to give much credibility to the conspiracy theorists.

    However, as each new model year comes along, and we have ever more computer controlled gizmos like electric steering , we become ever more vulnerable. Assassins may have to set aside the traditional tools. I, too, yearn for the days when the most electronic cars got was the use of spark plugs….

  4. Rob Maselko says:

    I don’t understand the mad rush to autonomous cars. Why give up one of the last things in our lives that we are able to control ourselves? The automobile has always been about the joy of freedom. Autonomous cars eliminate that. Hans is correct. You can bet that eventually governments will institute places you are not allowed to go…and they will know where you have been. Very scary. “1984” is arriving a little late, but it’s almost here.

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