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Smart car cyber-security guidelines demanded by UK government

The UK government has called on automakers to better protect internet-connected vehicles from cyber-attacks especially in light of the upcoming introduction of driverless vehicles.

The government said it was concerned that smart vehicles, which allow drivers to perform useful tasks such as accessing maps and travel information, could be targeted by hackers to access personal data, steal cars that use keyless entry systems, or take control of technology for malicious reasons.

Under new government guidance, engineers developing smart vehicles will have to toughen up cyber protection and help eliminate hacking.

Transport minister Lord Callanan said the risk of hacking was low, but insisted that protecting vehicles against cyber attacks was “important”.

“There are huge safety advantages for the public in using this technology, that’s one of the key drivers of it,” Lord Callanan said, “but there are some things we need to beware of and cyber security is a particularly important part of it.

“We need to make sure that the designs of the vehicles in the first place are completely cyber secure so that people can’t break into them, they can’t steal them and more importantly they can’t hack them to potentially cause accidents.”

Lord Callanan said members of the public could also take steps to protect their vehicles from hackers.

“The advice would be treat them as you would your computer,” he added, during a visit to Bristol.

“Be careful who you give access to, don’t plug in devices such as USB sticks that you don’t know the origin of. Be careful what apps you download to it, make sure you have the latest software.”

Vehicles that self-park are already on British roads and fully self-driving cars will be widely available “very quickly”, the minister added.

“We are already at some degrees of autonomy with vehicles even now, you can have them doing an awful lot,” he said.

“We need to make people aware of the fact that they are coming, they offer tremendous advantages but there are one or two threats that we need to make people aware of.”

Meanwhile a team from the University of Washington has discovered that self-driving cars are easily tricked by placing stickers on road signs.

By placing stickers or posters over a section of a road sign, smart cars would typically ignore stop signs for example and continue driving.

It was suggested that if car hackers gained access to the visual recognition software used within the vehicle, simple, targeted alterations to road signs could cause the car to misread them.

The team was able to create a stop sign that just looks splotchy or faded to human eyes but that was consistently classified by a computer vision system as a ‘Speed Limit 45’ sign.

To counter this, the researchers said the vehicles could use an AI system that takes contextual information to verify that a sign is accurate. For example, questioning whether a stop sign on a motorway or a high-speed limit on a back road are legitimate.

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