Hacking threat to driverless cars, says expert

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HACKING IS one of the biggest threats facing future driverless or semi-autonomous vehicles, an expert on cyber-security has warned.

Cyber-attacks on cars and trucks that are largely computer controlled could bring chaos to the roads, according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Hugh Boyes, from the IET, added that software systems had to become far more reliable before autonomous vehicles could be trusted not to go wrong.

Speaking at the launch of an IET report on the future of autonomous vehicles, Mr Boyes said: “If we have the hacker community start to target vehicles, we can imagine a fair amount of chaos. We just have to look at what happens in London when one vehicle breaks down on a major artery into the city; the tailbacks that rapidly occur.

“If just one in a 100 vehicles, or one in 1,000, gets interfered with and ceases to operate as planned we can expect chaos on the roads. We don’t want to be there. That’s why cyber security of autonomous vehicles will be critical.”

The Government has given the go-ahead for trials of driverless or semi-autonomous cars on public roads in selected UK cities next January.

Mr Boyes stressed while car manufacturers went to great pains to make products as safe as possible, the danger from hacking was not on their radar, adding: “Unfortunately we’re living in a world today where people deliberately tamper with technology because they can.”

The move towards driverless vehicles is expected to take place gradually over the next 10 to 15 years. Initially, cars will have some ability to “talk” to external traffic management systems, manage speed and distance from other vehicles.

Fully driverless vehicles could make an appearance in about a decade’s time, but only after people learn to trust the technology, experts believe. Before this happens, major challenges will have to be overcome, such as motorists becoming less vigilant and road aware, and therefore less able to take manual control in an emergency. Mr Boyes said software needs to less prone to defects if autonomous vehicles were to be a success.