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Self-Driving Cars Would Be A Huge Cyber-Security Risk

Autonomous cars are shifting from “P” to “D." We are not ready.

Becky Graebner


June 1, 2013 - 11:00 am
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When I read the title of The Wall Street Journal’s newest article on self-driving cars, I said “Oh wow, here we go” out loud. And, yes, here we go. Guidelines on the future of autonomous car operation are largely unwritten; it seems people aren’t even quite sure where to start. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took its first swing at creating some rules for the self-driving car, while simultaneously raising concerns regarding cyber-security and other untested safety scenarios. The bottom line, these cars open doors that could become security nightmares.

A Preliminary Outline of Rules:

Point number one of NHTSA’s rough sketch urged states not to allow self-driving cars on public roads unless it was for testing — but NHTSA displayed a vote of confidence by  including some rules for if/when states decided to allow the self-driving cars on their roads. Points number two and three focused on future regulations for actual autonomous owners/drivers. They suggested that states should require “drivers” (are they still considered drivers?) to carry special licenses and receive extra training on how to safely operate the vehicle. I think these points are fair and necessary.

Ok, so why so serious, Becky?  It sounds like this was a good start! Well, technology still sucks.

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All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
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Oh, please! It seems like every time a computer is involved, someone gets afraid of hacking.

The reality is that there are plenty of systems immune to hacking, and there's no reason that the cars shouldn't be among them. Furthermore, we already have cars where computers have enough control to cause accidents - automatic braking systems, cruise control, etc. Have we heard of them being hacked? No.

As long as the creators of these systems maintain some simple rules of isolation, the worry about hacking should be minimal. Just as the military carefully segregates its combat computers, so should the control systems in a car be isolated (through small, tightly coded interfaces) from dangers that might arrive in the entertainment or communications software.

This is easy to do. The liability exposure of manufacturers who don't do this will be huge. Car manufacturers are already very aware of liability issues and take great care to minimize them. Modern automobiles are far better engineered than modern consumer computers or most other devices.

Autonomous vehicles certainly have a ways to go before they can be trusted, but the problem is in the development of the AI for recognizing and responding to necessary driving situations... not hacking.

Once these vehicles exceed average human competence, they will be a great boon to safety and will open up great opportunities for energy savings and the recovery of time now lost to the menial task of driving onesself around.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
They would only be a problem if people were dumb enough to have them linked to the internet where they could be hacked and controlled by a third party.

If they were run in a stand alone mode with the driver giving directions, and the car recording the route based on drive times, landmarks, maybe read only GPS so it could retrace routes without input, it would work just fine. In other words, if it worked like a driver new to town and you gave it instructions, no problem.

Of course, few people can read maps these days or follow directions even simple ones. Just recently I told someone to just get on a certain road they couldn't miss, go about 12 miles and hang a left on (route number) by the ____ country store go about a mile and you'll see signs to where you want to go. Altogether it was 5 steps (step one turning around and going back the way they came). Still I saw them pull away, fiddle with the GPS toy, get on the cell phone, fiddle some more, then go.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
yep, and we should all still be in horse and buggy, at best have rotary phones and still cook with wood stoves, because no other tech advance in the history of the world has created new problems as it addressed old problems.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
A horse has a brain, and can find its way home even with a drunk buggy driver. A "self-driving car" has no brain -- at least, not one one tenth as good as that of a horse. Cars, by definition are meant to have an alert human driving them at all times. It is not just about "technological advances." making a "smart elevator on wheels" is not as safe as a car driven by an entity with an organic brain. A self-driving car is not "progress" in the positive, rational sense.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
i suspect that we will find out in ways that neither of us would predict.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good gracious, god almighty, just what we need, another bureaucratic nightmare with myriad new rules and regulations made on the fly. No, thank you!
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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