Hacking major threat to driverless vehicle adoption

21 November 2014
By Edd Gent
Mobile version
Share |
Driverless vehicles like Google's prototype could be vulnerable to hackers, according to the IET

Driverless vehicles like Google's prototype could be vulnerable to hackers, according to the IET

Attacks by hackers are one of the biggest threats to the widespread adoption of driverless or semi-autonomous vehicles, the IET’s cyber-security lead says.

Software systems must become far more reliable before the public and the government can have confidence in vehicles that are largely computer-controlled warned Hugh Boyes at the launch of an IET report on the future of autonomous vehicles

A recent report found that 98 per cent of software applications tested had serious defects – some with 10 to 15 faults each – he pointed out, and while car manufacturers make a considerable effort to make their products as safe as possible, the danger from hacking is simply not on their radar.

"We need to ensure that these vehicles don't have this level of defect. That's quite a challenge given the nature of the modern vehicle," he 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 earliest autonomous cars will have some limited ability to "talk" to external traffic management systems, manage speed and distance from other vehicles, and ensure lane discipline, but fully driverless vehicles could make an appearance in about a decade's time.

According to Boyes, computer programmers working on these kinds of applications currently occupy an "interesting no-man's land" in the eyes of the court and he believes "black box" recorders would have to be fitted to autonomous vehicles to prevent intractable legal arguments between insurers about who was to blame for an accident, the driver or the software.

"We don't have the strict product liability for software as we do for hardware,” he said. "For autonomous vehicles, that's going to have to change, because they are cyber-physical systems. They're a combination of IT and hardware."

The jury is out on whether driverless cars can prevent accidents, 95 per cent of which involve human error. Dr Nick Reed, principal human factors researcher at the Transport Research Laboratory, said: "Are they going to be safer than human drivers? There's a long way to go before that can be proved. But we know that human error is a contributory factor in a lot of collisions."

The government has given the go-ahead for trials of driverless or semi-autonomous cars on public roads in selected UK cities next January and the move towards driverless vehicles is expected to take place gradually over the next 10 to 15 years, according to the report.

Self-driving electric "pods" with a top speed of 7mph will be trialled in Milton Keynes next year, but on a special pavement route rather than the road.

Professor Phil Blythe, chairman of IET Transport Policy, said: "There are clear safety benefits in getting vehicles to drive optimally and at a particular speed while interacting with the infrastructure. We're moving towards co-operative systems.

"The first trial will happen in the UK in January. Vehicles and traffic lights will be talking to each other – that's the first step."

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1606

"Where would Frankenstein and his creative mind fit into today's workplace? Should we fear technological developments or embrace them?"

E&T jobs

  • Graduate Electrical Engineers

    • United Kingdom and Ireland
    • Competitive

    Due to the diverse nature of our business there are many different teams each with very different responsibilities.

    • Recruiter: AECOM

    Apply for this job

  • Network Innovation Engineer / Analyst - UK Power Sector

    Premium job

    Nortech Management Ltd
    • Birmingham, West Midlands or Pershore (Worcestershire)
    • £30,000 - £35,000 (depending on experience) + benefits

    Network Innovation Engineer / Analyst to join a team of talented technology enthusiasts who design and support the low carbon networks of the future.

    • Recruiter: Nortech Management Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Engineer with Strong telecoms background

    Premium job

    Sure South Atlantic Ltd
    • Falkland Islands

    Sure South Atlantic Ltd currently has a unique engineering opportunity in their Falkland Islands office. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, teeming ...

    • Recruiter: Sure South Atlantic Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Cyber, Communication, Information and Data Scientist roles

    Premium job

    • Porton Down, Salisbury
    • Competitive salaries

    Information is everything. Use it to serve your country and help keep us safe.

    • Recruiter: Dstl

    Apply for this job

  • Production Engineer

    Premium job

    Compact Engineering
    • Thirsk / Leeds / Banbury / Colchester / Cambridge
    • Salary will be competitive and commensurate with experience, knowledge, aptitude and capability

    A Production Engineer with some knowledge and understanding of radiant energy transfer.

    • Recruiter: Compact Engineering

    Apply for this job

  • Electronics Engineer

    Premium job

    Nikon Metrology Europe
    • Tring, Hertfordshire

    Nikon Metrology is looking for an Electronics Engineer to join our Electronics Team based in Tring (UK).

    • Recruiter: Nikon Metrology Europe

    Apply for this job

  • Engineering Manager

    BAE Systems
    • Hampshire, England, Portsmouth
    • Competitive package

    Would you like to play a vital role in managing and implementing the correct governance in order to enable BAE Systems to provide assurance and integrity of supply chain data? We currently have a vacancy for an Engineering Manager - Product Integrity

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Engineering Project Manager - Electrical & Automation

    • York, North Yorkshire
    • c£45,000 + Car Allowance + Bonus + Excellent Benefits

    Nestlé Product Technology Centre in York currently has an excellent opportunity for an Engineering Project Manager

    • Recruiter: Nestle

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer - Test

    BAE Systems
    • Farnborough, Hampshire, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer - Test Would you like to be a lead within an exciting team working on one of the UK's largest defence projects? We currently have a vacancy for a Consultant Engineer - Test at our site in Ash Vale. As a Consultant Engineer - Test, you

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job


    • Reading, Berkshire

    SSE are looking to recruit an Electrical Project Engineer into office in Reading

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶


Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T