Cybersecurity isn’t just about computers anymore. As hackers and technology both become more sophisticated, the potential implications associated with a cyber-attack could be significant. One prime example of a vulnerable technology, where the impacts of a large scale hack could put human life at risk are self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles. A pre-planned hack for a Wired magazine article last year proved that it is possible for would-be bad actors to remotely gain access to an automobile’s critical systems. Although there was no actual risk of injury in this scenario (since it was planned and the driver was aware of what the hacker was attempting to do), the reality is that the hacker was able to more-or-less take control of the car and bring it to a complete stop (against the driver’s will) on the highway.
The automaker in question did issue a recall of their cars with this on-board Wi-Fi system and have since made their cars much more secure, but just like with computers, when hackers have a will, they almost always find a way. In other words, this one particular vulnerability might have been addressed (for now), but it’s only a matter of time before more are exposed. Additionally, the car that was intentionally hacked in 2015 was not a self-driving vehicle. There was a driver at the wheel, and so even if the incident hadn’t been planned, there is a reasonable chance that the driver would have been able to help ensure a safe outcome.
But when you start thinking about autonomous vehicles, where a driver is no longer required to perform the routine driving functions and is therefore likely to be much more distracted, you can quickly imagine how a cyberattack could become a much more dangerous scenario. Furthermore, in order for self-driving cars to reach their full potential, they will also need to have a pretty high level of communication with other cars around them as well as the roadways, themselves. So this means that a high-level or large-scale hack could suddenly impact a multitude of cars at one time, by providing faulty data to all autonomous vehicles in a given geographic area or to all cars or trucks that are part of a managed fleet.
Just like with all computing, the benefits of technology in self-driving cars definitely outweigh the cybersecurity risks. Autonomous vehicles are almost certainly the wave of the future, but we shouldn’t let the excitement surrounding this technology distract us from the cybersecurity threats they might pose. At ATB we are excited to see what the future of automotive technology holds, but in the meantime, we’re here to help you keep your IT assets protected from hackers and other cyber threats.