The idea of hacking a car—taking control of important vehicle functions while the vehicle is operating—isn’t new. Over the last few years, as automakers cram more technology into vehicles, there’s a growing concern over nefarious parties hacking a vehicle. Such an incident could be deadly. In 2016, General Motors launched HackerOne to find vulnerabilities susceptible to hacking in its various systems. Last year, GM offered a bug bounty program to weed out other vulnerabilities. As electric, autonomous, and connected vehicles become the norm, there’s an increased risk for hacking. However, there are ways to minimize such a catastrophe.
Researchers at Georgia Tech and Multiscale Systems Inc. will present results of a new study that looked at the “cyber-physical” risks of hacked internet-connected cars, according to Forbes, to the 2019 American Physical Society March meeting. The study looks at the real-world results of what would happen if hackers took control of internet-connected vehicles. The study saw that when 10 to 20 percent of vehicles at rush hour became hacked, half the city became inaccessible from the rest. That could not only cause significant headaches, but possibly real-world injuries and deaths.
Such a scenario borders on science fiction, but hackers have, in the past, hacked into vehicle systems such as door locks, air conditioning, and radio controls. Those are minor systems in a vehicle, but as automakers push for V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) technologies while also increasing new advanced driver assistance systems where the vehicle can change speed, stop, accelerate, and turn without human intervention, the likelihood of those systems being susceptible to hacking increases.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though. According to Skanda Vivek, a postdoctoral researcher in the Peter Yunker lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, there are ways to minimize such vulnerabilities. One such technique is the use of multiple networks to decrease the number of cars that could be compromised by a single hacking occurrence. This would minimize the likelihood of a large-scale commuting disaster. Security will be key as automakers push forward with connected, autonomous, and electric cars, especially as they try to convince the public they are safe.
Even as Cruise Automation appears to be making progress navigating its autonomous vehicles through San Francisco roads in an attempt to solve a century-old problem, new threats have undoubtedly emerged with the advancement of technology, posing new problems.