Gartner: Cyber security a must for automated cars

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Car makers, governments and roadways authorities will need to take special care to focus on protecting cars from being taken over by hackers on infected by malware, according to, Thilo Koslowski, vice president of American information technology research and advisory firm, Gartner in an interview. According to him and many of his contemporaries, as cars become smarter and more connected to the internet of things and are more capable of machine to machine communication, we’ll need to be increasingly wary of the ability of nefarious individuals to make them do dangerous things remotely.

While of course there is something to worry about in terms of privacy, with GPS and GPRS able to give criminals a real insight into where you are and what you’re doing, (perhaps giving them long enough to rob your house of place of business) the real worry comes from the self driving features that could theoretically be manipulated from a distance.

“Central computing systems and even single chips will take on more functionality regarding the control of driver assistance and infotainment systems,” explained Koslowski. “That means that there will be a ‘central point of control’ that potentially can get compromised.”

With Google's pedigree, maybe it will be better at dealing with cyber threats to its cards.

With Google’s pedigree, maybe it will be better at dealing with cyber threats to its cards.

“In the long-term that could mean that national highway patrols in the future will have to shift their focus from driving regulations to cyber security enforcement,” he said.

This would certainly be a change from traditional efforts by police on our highways, who are more used to catching speeding and drunk drivers than anything else. In the future however, there may be a need to provide some sort of blocking functionality for a car that has been taken over remotely. The police cruiser could pull alongside and block any external signal while a driver in the affected car takes over, or it can at least be brought to a safe stop.

Traditionally, while cars have become far more advanced in the last few decade or so, they’re still quite basic when compared with the inter-connected world of other technological advancements. In reality, they’re just an engine with some digital control inputs and a few added safety features. However once you make a car able to connect to the internnet, download applications and software updates (thereby accepting digital inputs) with the ability to rewrite significant portions of a car’s operating code then things become dangerous.

“The challenge for these autonomous vehicles is they are heavily reliant on software, so we have to start asking how trustworthy the software is going to be operating those vehicles,” said Hugh Boyles, head of digital security at IET (via V3).

While neither men were keen to see automated cars slowed down in their march to progress, they did want to push auto-makers to begin thinking about security now, while the technology is still quite young and fresh. The worst thing would be for some horrific accident or crime to occur because of a hackable car, souring people on the idea of driverless vehicles, as they have the potential to bring a lot of improvements in the way we get from A to B.

 

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.