Will Your Driverless Car be Hacked?

Written by John Peterson
Posted March 11, 2019

We’re all waiting with bated breath for the dawn of self-driving cars. We keep being teased with prototypes and field driving tests, but the move to self-driving vehicles seems inevitable. And it appears to be a safer, easier, more convenient way for the world to get around.

However, though we think that robots and AI are infallible, programs are known to make mistakes. And when the AI behind a self-driving car encounters an error, those mistakes could be fatal.

That was the case in Arizona, last year, when one of Uber’s self-driving cars was involved in a fatal collision.

49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was walking her bicycle outside of a crosswalk when she was struck and killed by a self-driving car. But Elaine Herzberg was not the first casualty on the road to automation.

In 2016, a Tesla Model S in autopilot mode failed to register an 18-wheeler crossing the highway and pitched itself and its driver under the truck, resulting in another fatal crash. And there have been countless accidents and incidents of drunk driving that drivers have been all too ready to chalk up to the Tesla Model S’s autopilot program.

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And beyond these potentially fatal glitches, we live in an age of major hacks and cyber terrorism. What if someone with malicious intent hacked not just a car, but a fleet of driverless vehicles?

This topic is exactly what was discussed at the 2019 American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston. Some of the foremost minds in science met to assess the potential cyber security threats posed by the possible popularity of driverless vehicles.

Dr. Skanda Vivek of the Georgia Institute of Technology headed the meeting. Vivek and his team ran a simulation in which 10% of Manhattan’s vehicles were hacked. The results showed destruction and traffic gridlock throughout the city.

But Vivek wasn’t going to present his findings without a solution. The researchers at the Georgia Institute found that if they installed multiple networks for each connected, self-driving car, they could greatly decrease the risk of cars that could be compromised in a single hack.

Vivek essentially stated that if no more than 5% of any self-driving vehicles were on the same network, the harm potentially posed by a cyber terrorist attack would be incredibly low.

Vivek’s research is essential, for he believes, as many Americans are beginning to accept, that roadways full of driverless cars are inevitable.

Connected cars are the future. They hold tremendous potential for positive impact economically, environmentally, and, for former drivers no longer frustrated by congested commutes, psychologically. Our work is not in opposition to the future of connected cars. Rather, the novelty of our work lies in identifying and quantifying the underlying cyber-physical risks when multiple connected vehicles are compromised. By shining a light on these technologies at an early stage, we hope we can help prevent worst-case scenarios.

Thanks to preparations like this, when driverless cars hit American markets, we can kick back, relax, and safely cruise.

That’s all for now.

Until next time,

John Peterson
Investment Director, Pro Trader Today
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