posted 4 years ago

Self Driving Cars: Hackers Could Take Control And Wreak Havoc

Cyber Security Expert Highlights Potential Risks

Self driving cars could be “taken over by hackers and used to wreak havoc”, a cyber security expert has warned. 

The Institution of Engineering and Technology's Hugh Boyles told a leading technology website that: "You don't need to affect lots of (autonomous cars) to cause problems.”

The concern is that hackers – if such cars have vulnerabilities in their software – could be forced to perform tasks not requested by the motorist. It is much the same with a laptop computer, that can be infected with a virus and instructed to display a particular website.

Theoretically, a hacked vehicle could be instructed to block a major road in rush hour, drive to a location of the hacker's choice, exceed the speed limit or manoeuvre erratically.

“Just one or two in a stream of traffic that suddenly start to react erratically - either due to interference or technological malfunction - and we could rapidly see congestion levels escalate", Boyles said. The impact on an arterial road into the capital could be significant.

An Institution of Engineering and Technology report says that fully autonomous cars could be on the road in 15 years time. UK testing on public roads begins in January 2015.

Manufacturers of such cars will try to  minimise any risk to the safety and convenience of motorists -  but it is unlikely that any computer-based system will ever be invulnerable. 

Mr Boyles added: "The challenge for these autonomous vehicles is they are heavily reliant on software, so we have to start asking how trustworthy the software is going to be".

"We need to be worrying about, and taking steps now to protect against, interference with autonomous vehicles.”

"There are ideas about, but we are still establishing what best practice might look like. Because of the pace of change those (ideas) need to be formalised and ultimately end up as standards."


When the first British credit card was introduced (Access, your flexible friend) the company expected to lose a quarter of a million pounds due to fraud in the first 3 months of operation. £250,000 was an awful lot of money back then. A sensible person would have immediately said such a project that not only expected a high level of dishonesty but actually promoted greater dishonesty should never go ahead. Nothing, it seems, will ever be allowed to get in the way of a good (or a bad) money-making idea but as it is a fact of life it is the bottom line of the balance sheet that is the only thing that matters to our leaders and those who control our leaders, that million pounds per year was considered a reasonable amount of collateral damage for the sort of expected profits and the law of diminishing returns dictated building further safeguards into the system would not be cost effective. It is the bottom line and the law of diminishing returns that dictates almost everything and has made natural and man-made disasters worse than they should have been and those commercial consideration have also been solely responsible for countless deaths and injuries. In the matter of autonomous cars the chance of technology or software failure or mischief by hackers is very much secondary to the fact the system will have imperfection built-in as standard, now who wants to volunteer to be acceptable collateral damage?

In this day and age of Technology and vehicle recalls I perish the thought of autonomous vehicles. Think CRT TV's and you will remember these things went on for years. Now nothing lasts as long with product recalls or warranty repairs from domestic items through to cars. Even our dear beloved Prius has had recalls for fire from memory, just check vehicle recalls on VOSA's own website. So is it going to be possible to CTRL Alt Delete in the middle of a journey at 70mph? I would think not and what happens if the car was to pull over in a breakdown but try to avoid debris on the hard shoulder? The whole point of a car is to enjoy freedom and physically drive a car if you don't want to drive then catch a bus. Yes there maybe human error involved in a lot of accidents but as Jaguar/Landrover have just found out there are computer systems which are used to hack and steal Keyless Entry vehicles, if it's that easy just to steal imagine how easy it is to reprogram your vehicle.

Hold on: Hold on! Given that GPS stands for Gone Pear Shaped, the worrying thing is that too many people put total faith in GPS (Sat Navs to most!). GPS jammers are small and cheap. A professional navigator colleague reports that within one half hour using a sophisticated bit of kit he had detected 30 white vans with jammers on board no doubt to avoid tracking by their transport managers! No doubt these self drive cars will require a GPS input. Put that in the context of heavy commuter traffic and you will have chaos. The recent spate of throttles jamming full open in certain cars is directly linked to faulty computers. At least you will not be able to blame the driver!