Highway authorities will need to concentrate on enforcing cyber security regulations rather than driving regulations, as cars become more connected and autonomous, a Gartner analyst predicts.
Thilo Koslowski, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, told V3 the security risks posed by self-driving and connected vehicles will become a real concern as technology leads to further integrated car systems.
"Central computing systems and even single chips will take on more functionality regarding the control of driver assistance and infotainment systems," explained Koslowski. "That means that there will be a ‘central point of control' that potentially can get compromised."
While Koslowski said that the cars currently on the road are not vulnerable to such risks due to multiple units controlling separate systems, the problem could become a reality in the future.
"In the long-term that could mean that national highway patrols in the future will have to shift their focus from driving regulations to cyber security enforcement," he said.
Koslowski's forecast follows concerns from a security expert at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), who warns that driverless and connected cars could be hacked, stolen and used in terrorist attacks.
Hugh Boyles, cyber security lead at the IET, explained in an interview with V3 that, as cars gain internet connectivity and autonomous driving features, they could be taken over by hackers and used to wreak havoc on the roads.
Exploitable flaws and a lack of reliability in the software in driverless cars also present risks.
"The challenge for these autonomous vehicles is they are heavily reliant on software, so we have to start asking how trustworthy the software is going to be operating those vehicles," said Boyles.
He cited an example of the disruption a breakdown can cause on one of London's arterial roads.
"You don't need to affect lots of [autonomous cars] to cause problems, just one or two in a stream of traffic that suddenly start to react erratically either due to interference or technological malfunction, and we could rapidly see congestion levels escalate," he said.
The warnings follow an Automated Vehicles report by the IET predicting that fully autonomous cars could be on the road in 15 years' time.
"Autonomous cars are a reality, they exist within permitted environments and they work. There is an opportunity to realise the benefits of these cars for the whole of society," the report said.
Cars are already making use of automated systems such as cruise control and assisted parking, and have internet connectivity with in-car WiFi and 4G access.
As the technology evolves, more cars will have a mixture of controls that can be operated by a driver or an automated system, the report said.
Boyes explained that automation can help make the roads safer and reduce fuel consumption by removing erratic driving habits.
However, manufacturers and other automotive organisations need to consider the dangers posed by cyber attacks and software failures.
"We need to be worrying about, and taking steps now to protect against, interference with autonomous vehicles," he said.
"There are ideas about, but we are still establishing what best practice might look like. Because of the pace of change those [ideas] need to be formalised and ultimately end up as standards."
Vehicle infotainment manufacturer Harman is already exploring ways to deliver connectivity through in-car systems without putting the vehicle at risk from hackers.
The company turned to security techniques used in the computing sector to find ways to protect its connected systems.
Part of this involves using firewalls to separate critical car systems from infotainment functions, and integrating advanced security features such as secure boot and data encryption.
However, Robert Boatright, director of automotive networking at Harman, explained that car hacking has yet to make it beyond laboratory testing.
"To date, successful car hacks have required direct hardware access to the car's systems and few have been implemented outside research conditions," he said.
Google is likely to be considering software and connectivity issues as the company pushes forward with the development of its driverless car.
The government is also embracing the idea, having recently given the go ahead for driverless cars to be tested on UK roads next year.
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