Moguldom Nation On Alert: Why Cybersecurity For Autos Is A Top Risk Over Next Decade

Written by Ann Brown
The most pressing cybersecurity concern over the next decade won’t be Facebook or other social media platforms, but automobiles. Photo by Luther Bottrill on Unsplash credit:mmg

The most pressing cybersecurity concern over the next decade won’t be Facebook or other social media platforms, but automobiles. And here’s the reason: As we move toward smart cars and self-driving automobiles, there is a major concern that they could be hacked and the cars used as weapons. Imagine it, a hacker, terrorists, or just someone with ill intent takes over the cyber controls of a fleet of cars and directs them to actually perform hit and runs?

“At present, there are about 50 million vehicles in the United States that have Internet connectivity. That’s about 20 percent of all vehicles on the road. That percentage will sharply increase starting with the 2020 model year due to a commitment by all major manufacturers to add connectivity features to many new models going forward.

Ford, GM, and Toyota plan to have all of their vehicles connected to the internet starting with this upcoming model year. That would mean about 17 million new ‘connected cars’ on American roads each year,” CPO Magazine reported.

The potential danger is real. According to a new report, if a ‘fleet-wide’ attack were to occur, 3.75 million connected cars would be infected and over a quarter of a million drivers could be on the road at the time of the attack. This would lead to over 130,000 injuries and 3,000 deaths. The estimated death toll would be slightly greater than that of the September 11 attacks, making this a valid national security concern,” CPO Magazine reported.

How easy would it be to hack into cars? Pretty easy, cybersecurity experts say. And, in fact, hackers have already done so. 

Chinese hackers showed how easy it was to hack into Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving software and “tricked” the car into swerving into an oncoming traffic lane.

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Cybersecurity researchers from Keen Security Labs in China put bright-colored stickers on the road to create a “fake lane” and this caused a Tesla Model S’ self-driving software to drive from the correct lane into the opposing lane on a test course. In a real-life situation, the Tesla would have most likely crashed into oncoming traffic.

“Tesla autopilot module’s lane recognition function has a good robustness in an ordinary external environment (no strong light, rain, snow, sand and dust interference), but it still doesn’t handle the situation correctly in our test scenario,” Keen Security Labs wrote in its published report.

″[T]his kind of attack is simple to deploy,” according to the researchers at Keen, which is run by the Chinese tech giant Tencent. They noted that it is “easy to obtain” the simple circular stickers they used to pull off the stunt.

A Tesla spokesperson sent a statement to CNBC Make It that pointed out that in the Keen tests “the physical environment around the vehicle is artificially altered.” The Tesla spokesperson added that the vulnerability “is not a realistic concern given that a driver can easily override Autopilot at any time by using the steering wheel or brakes and should always be prepared to do so, and can manually operate the windshield wiper settings at all times.”

In another hacking experiment, a group of researchers at the University of South Carolina said they fooled the Tesla Model S’ autopilot system “into perceiving objects where none existed or in other cases to miss a real object in Tesla’s path,” The Guardian reported.

Currently, federal law in the U.S. requires that any cars with autonomous technology have conventional driver controls so a human can take control of the vehicle.