A researcher has warned that the cars of the future, including self-driving cars such as those that are being developed by Google, need to have their security systems improved, or they will put lives at risk.
Professor Andry Rakotonirainy, from Queensland University of Technology, said that the cars of tomorrow face a threat from hackers who may be able to take control of their vehicles.
He added that the current level of security on cars is similar to that of a 1980s computer.
“If someone hacks into a vehicle’s electronics via a wireless network and exploits the current security loophole, they can track or take control of it,” he said.
“We need to be analysing the types of risk that these intelligent vehicles are facing and work to provide a secure, reliable and trusted protection system,” Rakotonirainy said.
“A vehicle’s communication security over wireless networks cannot be an afterthought and needs to be comprehensively considered at the early stages of design and deployment of these high-tech systems from the hardware, software, user and policy point of view.”
The ability to hack into cars has already been shown when Sahas Katta took control of his father’s Tesla S using an app he created using Google Glass.
DARPA has also shown that it is possible to hack into a car and control it using a smartphone - as can be seen below.
Manufacturers and technology companies are in the process of developing products which will allow the next generation of vehicles to communicate with their environments.
This includes the roads themselves, traffic lights and more.
However according to Rakotonirainy, the security levels of the cars we drive need to improve significantly before they should start talking objects in the street.
He said: “The security protection on cars is virtually non-existent, it is at a level of protection that a desktop computer system had in the 1980s, the basic security requirements such as authentication, confidentiality and integrity are not strong.”
“What this means is that, as vehicles become more and more connected and autonomous, with the ability to communicate to other vehicles and infrastructure through wireless networks, the threat of cyber attack increases putting people’s safety and security at risk.”
However the ‘hacking’ of cars does not have to be seen as a negative, as has been shown by one Kickstarter campaign that has received more than double the amount of funding it set out to achieve
It allows a user to access all the data their car produces and senses about its performance.
Almost all cars are fitted with a CAN BUS, which is a message-based protocol that carries data about the car.
The developer Derek Kuschel hacked into his own car to separate the signal and collect all the data.
This can allow developers to build software to monitor the data their cars produce and may lead to people being able to drive more efficiently and use their cars in an environmentally friendly manner, as well as sensing when issues may be about to arise.