The Hackability of Autonomous Vehicles

With autonomous vehicles tested around the world, drivers must prepare for the inevitable reality that there will soon be many autonomous vehicles on the road. This raises concerns about the safety of such vehicles and whether they are actually safer than traditional vehicles.

One of the biggest fears is that an autonomous vehicle can be hacked and used to intentionally kill passengers or as a weapon against another person or group of people.
This is certainly a valid concern and was demonstrated in 2015 by the technology magazine Wired when they remotely stopped a Jeep on a highway to show that it is possible to hack a vehicle that is in production. The demonstration even caused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to send a software patch loaded on a USB drive to 1.4 million Jeep owners.

What do professionals say?

When it comes to the ability to hack into autonomous vehicles, there is no better person to ask than the person who designs them.

A recent blockbuster, The Fate of the Furious, described a scene in which dozens of vehicles were hacked and remotely used to take them to a target or make a lot of people catch them.

When asked about the likelihood of the scene, Green Hills Software’s director in California, Joe Fabbre, told USA Today: “That’s sensational in Hollywood, but that’s not so farfetched. There are very skilled hackers who can overcome many levels of medium and low robustness in terms of security that are present in many cars today. ”

What is being done about the threat of hacking?

You know that we are entering strange moments when even the most sensational scenes of Hollywood are not so far from reality. The threat of being hacked has led numerous vehicle manufacturers to push wireless software updates on their vehicles to improve security. Another way in which automakers are reinforcing security is changing the way they approach the problem by hiring hackers to try to hack the vehicle software to identify the weak points.

A program launched in 2016 by a technology company in San Francisco was called “Error Rewards Program” and offered hackers $ 1,500 for each vulnerability they might expose.

Another concern that has arisen when it comes to the vulnerability of autonomous vehicle software is the fact that all of them will be connected. Systems such as Ford’s “All-Cell Vehicle” system will allow all of its autonomous vehicles to communicate, which raises the concern that if a vehicle were compromised, all of them could be accessed through that vulnerable vehicle.

Has anyone been killed by a hacked autonomous vehicle?

So far, there have been no official reports of deaths as a result of a pirated autonomous vehicle, but there has been at least one death at the hands of an autonomous vehicle. An autonomous Uber vehicle was being tested in Arizona when a woman with a bicycle crossed in front of him in near total darkness. The sudden object and the dark conditions caused the vehicle to not react in time and neither did the driver accompanying it. The vehicle hit and killed the woman, which provoked outrage at the program. He was forced to close and cease operations in the state of Arizona.

Another case related to autonomous vehicles occurred when researchers from a Chinese security company managed to hack a Tesla Model X. The researchers controlled the vehicle’s brakes remotely, opened the doors and the boot, and turned on the lights with the music they transmitted. through the vehicle. Tesla was quick to respond by sending a security update to Model X remotely.

How does the future look?

The march towards an autonomous future seems unstoppable, with the Phoenix Waymo company recently ordering another 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica vans for its self-driving fleet. These are modified from the production versions you can get at Landmark South in Belton, MO.

The biggest concern with autonomous vehicles may be piracy, but they also have other disconcerting aspects, such as how the vehicle will respond when presented with the option of killing a pedestrian or leaving a bridge. That may be an extreme example, but the morality of autonomous vehicle programming has been a great center of debate. For now, automakers will have to stay alert and continue to push wireless updates to stay ahead of hackers.

One could even ask with all the risks involved, are autonomous vehicles safer than traditional vehicles? For now, that response will continue to evolve with technology, but drivers must begin to prepare for a future in which they will share the road with autonomous vehicles.