The Greatest Threat to Self-Driving Cars Will Be Hackers

Thursday, 24 August 2017 - 1:21PM
Technology
Robotics
Artificial Intelligence
Thursday, 24 August 2017 - 1:21PM
The Greatest Threat to Self-Driving Cars Will Be Hackers
Image credit: Waymo
Autonomous vehicles have been a staple of sci-fi for a while, but they're quickly becoming a promising, potentially life-saving technology in our world. They eliminate many human-caused driving dangers and hold the promise of a future where driverless taxis and flying cars dominate transportation. So what makes this technology so dangerous? One word: hackers.

From smart fridges to cell phones, most digital devices are susceptible to hacking, and autonomous vehicles are no different. Just last year, researchers at CMU showed that facial recognition systems, an existing security measure, can be taken out by something as simple as a funky-looking pair of glasses. So far, there have been no accounts of any malicious hacking into self-driving vehicles, but that is likely because the tech is still so new.  

While companies like Microsoft continue to spend over $1 billion every year on security efforts, hackers still manage to find holes in their operating systems, browsers, and apps. And, according to Kevin Tighe, a senior systems engineer at the security testing firm Bugcrowd, "Car companies are finally realising that what they sell is just a big computer you sit in." This makes security a primary issue—automotive security researcher Charlie Miller says "Driverless cars have all of the problems of regular car security, and then you add in a bunch more computers and sensors and take the human out of the front seat, altogether, so it's a difficult problem."



While it hasn't been seen in practice yet, the possibility of being hacked while driving holds the potential to be life-threatening. If you're Will Smith in I, Robot, you might be able to take manual control of your driverless vehicle to avoid danger (the danger, in this case, being two hacked, autonomous trucks), but hacker-controlled traffic jams (or collisions) pose a new frontier for cyberterrorists and ransomware hackers to explore. Perhaps, as the possibility of a quantum internet becomes more realistic, there will be better ways to secure autonomous vehicles.

Otherwise, hackers armed with quantum computers might get to our cars first.

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