Driver Knowledge Tests

What risks are there with the adoption of autonomous vehicles?

Autonomous and connected vehicles hold great promise for transforming transportation and making it safer and more efficient. However, like any technological advancement, they also come with potential threats and challenges.

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities

One of the most significant threats is the potential for cyberattacks on connected vehicles. Hackers could exploit vulnerabilities in vehicle software and communication systems, gaining control over critical functions like steering, braking, and acceleration. This poses a serious safety risk for occupants and other road users.

A hacker could exploit autonomous vehicles through various vulnerabilities in their software, communication systems, and sensors. These vulnerabilities could potentially allow the hacker to take control of the vehicle, compromise its safety features, or gain unauthorised access to sensitive data such as real-time location data or even connect to your Bluetooth-connected smartphone. Here are some ways a hacker might exploit autonomous vehicles:

  1. Remote takeover: A skilled hacker could gain unauthorised access to the vehicle’s control systems and take remote control of critical functions such as steering, braking, and acceleration. They might be able to disable key safety systems such as autonomous emergency braking. This could lead to accidents, collisions, or even intentional harm. If the vehicle is a goods vehicle with no driver, they may be able to divert it and steal the cargo.
  2. Malware injection: Hackers might introduce malicious software or malware into the vehicle’s systems through vulnerabilities in the software update process, entertainment systems, or communication networks. Once the malware is in place, it could disrupt the vehicle’s operations, compromise safety features, prevent the vehicle from being recharged, or steal data.
  3. Sensor manipulation: Autonomous vehicles rely on various sensors, cameras, lidar, and radar systems to perceive their environment. A hacker could manipulate or jam these sensors, leading the vehicle to make incorrect decisions based on faulty information. This might cause the vehicle to brake suddenly, swerve or not brake at all, completely without input from the driver.
  4. Spoofing attacks: Hackers could manipulate the communication systems of autonomous vehicles, such as GPS or vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, to provide false information. This could cause the vehicle to navigate incorrectly, leading to accidents or getting lost.
  5. Denial of service (DoS) attacks: A hacker might launch a DoS attack against the vehicle’s communication systems, causing them to become overwhelmed and cease functioning. This could disrupt the vehicle’s ability to communicate with other vehicles, infrastructure, or central control systems.
  6. Unauthorized data access: Autonomous vehicles collect and transmit vast amounts of data, including personal information and driving behaviour. Hackers could breach the vehicle’s data storage or communication systems to access sensitive data, which could lead to privacy breaches or identity theft. It could allow a thief to know where the car is at a specific moment so that they can steal it, or that there is potentially nobody at home, and therefore break into someone’s house.
  7. Ransomware attacks: Hackers might lock down the vehicle’s systems with ransomware, demanding payment in exchange for restoring control to the owner or manufacturer.
  8. Manipulating traffic flow: By compromising connected infrastructure such as traffic lights or road signs, hackers could manipulate traffic patterns, leading to congestion, accidents, or even gridlock. This could be used by one country against another to cripple its economy, or on a more local level to extort local officials.
  9. Physical attacks via digital means: Some autonomous vehicles are equipped with remote parking or summoning capabilities. A hacker could potentially exploit these features to move the vehicle without the owner’s consent, causing damage to the vehicle or its surroundings.
  10. Social engineering: Hackers might target individuals associated with the autonomous vehicle ecosystem, such as employees of manufacturers or suppliers, to gain unauthorized access to systems or information.
  11. Supply chain attacks: Hackers could compromise the supply chain by introducing malicious components or software during the manufacturing process, which could later be exploited to gain control over the vehicle.
  12. Corporate sabotage: Cybercriminals with an agenda could focus on a specific manufacturer’s vehicles in order to cause economic harm to that manufacturer, or could focus on a specific company that has autonomous vehicles in its fleet.

To mitigate these threats, vehicle manufacturers, software developers, and the broader automotive industry must prioritise cybersecurity measures. This includes implementing robust encryption, continuous software updates, intrusion detection systems, network segregation, and rigorous penetration testing to identify and address vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them. Additionally, regulatory bodies and standards organizations play a crucial role in establishing guidelines and requirements to ensure the security of autonomous vehicles.

Data privacy concerns

Connected vehicles gather and transmit vast amounts of data, including location, driving behavior, and personal information. If this data falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to identity theft, stalking, or unauthorized access to sensitive information. This information is stored in the cloud and no system is 100% impregnable. Keeping data safe is an arms race.

Malfunction and technical glitches

Autonomous vehicles rely heavily on complex and integrated sensors, cameras, and software systems to navigate and respond to their changing environment. Malfunctions or technical glitches in these systems could result in accidents or unexpected behavior on the road.

Even minor issues could cause vehicle-wide recalls costing hundreds of millions of dollars and clogging up mechanics’ and technicians’ time.

As V2X (vehicle to various other technologies) becomes more widespread, this means that hackers might be able to first compromise a vehicle, then compromise connected technology such as traffic signals.

Ethical dilemmas

Autonomous vehicles may need to make split-second decisions in dangerous situations, such as choosing between two potentially fatal outcomes. These ethical dilemmas raise questions about how these decisions should be programmed and who bears responsibility for them. Malware could change the algorithm to favour certain types of people, certain races, etc.

Liability and legal issues

Determining liability in the event of an accident involving autonomous vehicles can be complex. Is the driver, the vehicle manufacturer, the software developer, or another party responsible? Legal frameworks need to evolve to address these uncertainties.

Interoperability and standards

Connected vehicles from different manufacturers need to communicate effectively to ensure seamless traffic flow and safety. Developing common standards and ensuring interoperability can be challenging. V2X technologies are attempting this.

Infrastructure readiness

To fully realise the potential of connected and autonomous vehicles, road infrastructure must be equipped with the necessary technologies, such as advanced traffic management systems and reliable communication networks. The budget for this may not be available given the increasing costs of simply maintaining road surfaces.

Job displacement

The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles could potentially lead to job losses for professional drivers, such as truckers and taxi drivers, as their roles become automated.

Regulatory hurdles

Governments and regulatory bodies need to develop clear and comprehensive regulations to address safety, liability, privacy, and other issues related to autonomous and connected vehicles. The lack of consistent regulations can hinder deployment.

Dependency on technology

Overreliance on autonomous systems might lead to drivers becoming complacent or less attentive, which could impact their ability to take control of the vehicle in critical situations.

Unintended consequences

The deployment of autonomous and connected vehicles could have unexpected effects on traffic patterns, urban planning, and the environment, which need to be carefully considered. These factors could include people’s need to have as many vehicles, privacy concerns about cameras used in autonomous vehicles, etc.

Addressing these threats requires collaboration between automakers, technology companies, governments, and cybersecurity experts. Striking a balance between innovation and safety is essential to ensure the successful integration of autonomous and connected vehicles into our transportation systems.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

Posted in Advice