Autonomous vehicles: cybersecurity and safety at stake

November 20, 2020

Autonomous vehicles may still sound like something out of The Jetsons, but that futuristic landscape may be closer than we think.

Recent developments and research have shown how connected and autonomous vehicles have the potential to seriously change the future of transport and mobility. As more and more cars are built with 5G capabilities, emerging innovations may mean that self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles will be possible in the not-too-distant future.

These developments will likely be revolutionary, changing not only driving and traffic patterns, but also potentially leading to entire city transport networks that are largely or completely autonomous. Commuting and traffic could be optimised, and municipalities could have more control over a variety of factors to make their cities more liveable. Such factors could include a city’s carbon footprint, for example, if they have greater control over the vehicles operating within a transport network.

However, as exciting as these developments are, cybersecurity must be at the forefront of these innovations as well. Without consideration for safety-by-design, connected and autonomous vehicles risk not only being insecure, but actually presenting a real danger. Faulty software, firmware or a hack that leaves the vehicle vulnerable to hijacking or spoof attacks could easily interfere with this kind of processing.

Similarly, autonomous vehicles will have to be able to perceive the environment around them, making decisions in seconds. There have been reports of several Teslas misinterpreting tampered speed signs, for example, causing them to accelerate unexpectedly. Luckily, the autonomous feature in a Tesla is still monitored by the driver, but deliberate or accidental sabotage attempts can lead to deadly miscalculations.

Therefore, as the technology underpinning connected and autonomous vehicles continues to develop, researchers and organisations must consider the myriad of security and safety concerns surrounding the future of mobility. Without this, organisations, cities and users will constantly be catching up to patch deadly emerging threats.

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