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Quantum technology research to prevent hackers hijacking autonomous vehicles

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Researchers and quantum technology experts are investigating how security systems based on the randomness of light can help protect connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) from cyber attacks.

There are fears that CAVS, which include driverless cars and vehicles that have internet connectivity, could be hijacked by criminals with equipment as basic as publicly available software and a laptop computer.

A new project involving the cyber-security group at Coventry University’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities (FTC) and a team of quantum experts at London-based cyber-security start-up Crypta Labs, aims to improve security and consequently safety to drivers and passengers.

The 12-month project is funded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) through InnovateUK, under the Connected and Autonomous Vehicles 2 scheme.

The weakest link in current encryption systems is a reliance on numbers which are not truly random and which can put the vehicles at risk of being hacked. Crypta Labs has developed a quantum random number generator (QRNG) based on the randomness derived from the quantum properties of light. This QRNG can acquire a true random number by using the behaviour of light particles called photons, as they act in a completely random way.

This project will assess the technical and commercial feasibility of applying Crypta Labs’ QRNG system to connected and autonomous vehicles ahead of the company rolling out and commercialising its technology.

Professor Siraj Ahmed Shaikh, professor of systems security at Coventry University’s FTC research institute, is the academic principal investigator of the project, while Dr Hoang Nga Nguyen, a research fellow in cyber security and cyber-physical systems at FTC, is the technical lead.

Prof Shaikh said: “There could be significant consequences for the safety of drivers and passengers if any of these autonomous or connected cars were to be hacked and on-board control systems compromised to disrupt moving vehicles. There’s a real need for new approaches to address these problems.”

Joe Luong, CEO, Crypta Labs, said, “We believe quantum random number generation technology can have profound applications for transport and vehicle security. The project will serve to be a critical link in assessing how QRNG-based security could strengthen connected and autonomous vehicles.”

E&T features rolling coverage of autonomous and connected vehicle news, regularly updating the web site with the latest developments, as well as driverless vehicle news for all types of transport. 

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