Just a few years ago, the concept of driverless vehicles was difficult to visualize. Today, research about autonomous cars is growing, and media coverage about this technology is widespread.
What Is a Driverless Vehicle?
Also known as self-driving cars, automated cars and autonomous vehicles, driverless cars are designed to travel without the need for human operation. Used for both personal and commercial purposes, driverless vehicles use a combination of on-board sensors and connectivity to a central hub, enabling them to navigate the road without a human operator.
Who Is Developing Driverless Technology and Why?
It is believed that driverless vehicles will save the UK economy nearly £34 billion a year simply from a logistics standpoint, so it’s not a surprise that many vehicle manufactures are interested in pursuing this groundbreaking technology. Vehicle manufacturers developing driverless vehicle technology include Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen and Volvo, alongside Google.
Driverless vehicles would allow for greater efficiency and considerable cost savings for commercial firms — vehicles that can operate at all hours of the day would enable company employees to perform other tasks while on the go, potentially improving productivity in the workplace.
The Threat of Attack
While automated cars would lead to efficiencies, the possibility of a data breach or attack should not be overlooked. As with any technology, there is always a possibility of a threat or hack, particularly with a system that is connected to an external source of data. While manufacturers know that driverless vehicles need to be equipped with a robust security system, it is not possible to guarantee total safety all the time.
As driverless vehicles become more accessible, there comes the challenge of tracking and monitoring each individual vehicle. While you might assume that cyber hackers would be more attracted by large corporations with a vast amount of wealth as targets for an attack, smaller businesses are often preyed upon as easy targets.
Smaller businesses tend to be without the levels of security and preventative resources available to larger companies and thus are unable to respond to threats with the same speed and efficiency. In fact, in 2016 alone it was estimated that 1 in 10 people or businesses who were attacked by hackers were targeted simply due to the lack of provision for their digital security. Not having sufficient knowledge or resources available to protect themselves from attack makes small businesses ideal targets for cybercriminals.
Why Target Vehicles?
As driverless vehicles are still a relatively new concept and continue to be developed, they are more susceptible to attack than other types of technology. Regular ‘manned’ vehicles are not vulnerable in the same way, due to the presence of the driver. Current security technologies are largely geared towards the presence of a human being as a deterrent for theft and hacks. To this end, physical security measures have become more advanced over the recent years, with CCTV cameras being a prime example. In the aftermath of the 2011 London riots for example, CCTV helped to catch more than 5,000 thieves and bring them to justice.
However, as we aware, hackers can operate from any corner of the world and in complete secrecy, so deterrents such as CCTV are no longer viable distractions. In addition, once a vehicle has been broken into, it’s very easy to remove it from the scene quickly and unobtrusively. Bystanders wouldn’t normally take a second look if a driverless vehicle was seemingly going about its scheduled routine. Indeed, it would be difficult to determine if it had been hacked at all, due to the difficulty of identifying the correct path the vehicle should be on and if it had deviated from it.
With autonomous technology such as driverless vehicles becoming more and more prevalent in our society, the risk of cybercrime increases exponentially. All technologies are guaranteed to go through stages of trial and error with regards to security, regardless of how revolutionary they are.
Ultimately, it only takes one small error or flaw in the system to turn a minor security breach into a serious collapse. Similarly, with data theft and many other forms of theft, lack of knowledge and lack of resources are key factors in determining why the average person and business is attacked by hackers. In the interim, while driverless technology improves, the opportunity to hack vehicles will not be ignored by cybercriminals who thrive on exploiting the vulnerabilities of both businesses and individuals.
About the Author
Justin Fox is writing on behalf of Cheeky Munkey, an IT support services provider to businesses across the United Kingdom in need of digital security and online protection.