Driverless cars are at ‘real risk’ of being hacked and having their brakes remotely applied when introduced to Britain
Connected nature of these vehicles could make them a ‘target’ for hackers.
Expert Matthew Channon has written to MPs to warn of the danger of accidents
Technology experts agree that ‘connected and autonomous vehicles’ without drivers are at risk, following two high-profile US hacks of cars
Driverless cars face a ‘real risk’ of being hacked en masse when they are introduced to Britain, an expert has warned.
The connected nature of these vehicles could make them a ‘target’ for hackers, according to evidence submitted to Parliament.
Matthew Channon, an insurance expert on driverless cars from Exeter University, has written to MPs to warn of the danger of road accidents.
The connected nature of these vehicles could make them a ‘target’ for hackers, according to evidence submitted to Parliament (stock image)
Technology experts agree that ‘connected and autonomous vehicles’ without drivers are at risk, following two high-profile US hacks of cars. There are concerns terrorists could fool the automated cars into detecting obstacles which are not there and remotely slam on their brakes.
In his evidence to Parliament on the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, Mr Channon wrote: ‘A major issue that has not been introduced in the Bill is in relation to mass risk.
‘Particularly if more than one vehicle is hacked at the same time and damage is caused, there is a real risk of this happening and this is a real target due to the connected nature of these vehicles.’
Driverless cars are hoped to prevent many road deaths – almost two-thirds of which are caused by driver error or failure to react, according to the RAC.
However experts say some car manufacturers are planning to create a ‘network’ of family cars, principally for safety reasons.
Self-driving lorries are expected to be trialled on major roads next year, which will be wirelessly connected with the lead vehicle controlling braking and acceleration. A feasibility study, commissioned by the Department for Transport, included the risk of cyber-attack.
Mr Channon, who is writing a book called The Law and Driverless Cars, said: ‘Because they will be sharing information, if you hack one, it will be possible to hack the others also. Having spoken to a number of technology experts to determine the insurance cost of hacking, I believe this is a potential issue.
‘Hackers could trick autonomous cars into detecting an object that was not there so that they would just stop. The concern is that if this happened on the fast lane of a motorway, it could cause a pile-up.’
He added: ‘I am not saying this definitely is going to happen, but it is a risk and all eventualities should be addressed.’
While mass hacking is seen as a ‘doomsday’ scenario, technology experts have not ruled it out. In 2015 two US hackers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, claimed to have hijacked the braking system of a Toyota Prius.
Five years earlier, researchers at Washington University and the University of California San Diego performed a hack said to make it possible to disable the brakes of millions of cars and trucks using their dashboard computer.
Hugh Boyes, a cyber-security expert at the University of Warwick, said: ‘Significant efforts are being made to tackle automotive cyber security but software and systems currently have a degree of fallibility which hackers could exploit.
Driverless cars are hoped to prevent many road deaths – almost two-thirds of which are caused by driver error or failure to react, according to the RAC
‘In theory, it has been demonstrated in the US that vehicles can be hacked. The industry has moved swiftly to try and reduce that risk but it would not be prudent to say it could never happen. Just look at hacks that have taken place with companies like Talk Talk and people’s financial data and offshore accounts.’
Car manufacturers are already producing prototypes for ‘level five’ fully automated cars, which will follow those allowing drivers to take over the controls.
Experts say they could in theory have their sensors hacked to make them detect obstacles which are not there. Their speed sensors could be hacked to make them accelerate suddenly, although experts it is thought to be most likely they would just slam on the brakes.
Safety-critical software updates, if people forget to carry them out, could also make cars more vulnerable to hacking.
Peter Vermaat, from the Transport Research Laboratory, said: ‘Driverless cars are likely to be connected so they work like a “swarm” and can detect other vehicles so they do not collide.
‘People no longer need to get into a vehicle physically, they can hack into it. It seems likely that these vehicles will be connected using the internet, which we know can be hacked.
‘However the industry has been really kicked into action and this issue is very prominent.’