Forty years ago, the automotive industry wasn't complicated at all.
Sure, manufacturers had their fair share of challenges. However, these things were simple compared to the ground-breaking innovations automakers introduce today. If you talked about cars getting a virus or getting hacked back in the day, people would think you've gone crazy.
Let's rephrase that: self-driving cars that communicate with each other are here now, and they're here to stay. Estimates suggest that about 10 million connected autonomous vehicles will be on the road by the year 2020. Industry giants Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, and Toyota have poured in billions of dollars for R&D.
There's no stopping this autonomous freight train, which is excellent for the majority of people who don't drive for a living. However, with high technology comes extraordinary risk: what makes computers and phones targets make cars targets as well.
Autonomous vehicles are deep-learning computers on wheels. Computing machines require hardware and software components to function.
Functions once reserved for electronic devices such as smartphones or computers are now in cars. Programs and apps run on cars, much like they do on your phone. Want to lookup the owner of someone else’s car? Chances are you can do an online search with your vehicle's built-in touch screen.
Today's automobile includes sophisticated internal technology. This futuristic network links the car's sensors, driving system, entertainment, and more. And here lies the rub: because we're talking about software, cybercriminals can exploit the weakest link on this network.
Carjacking is so 1980's, and if a criminal were to break-in, the tech used in cars nowadays would only slow him down. Carjackers are now hackers and cybercriminals who can access a vehicle remotely. Researchers have demonstrated that it is possible to attack autonomous vehicles remotely.
Connectivity makes it easier for the bad guys to wreak havoc once they get inside the network. Since all cars talk to each other, any hack could have enormous consequences and compromise the safety of everyone. What would happen if an entire fleet of vehicles were set loose on the road, with no further instructions? What if private cars lost control and got diverted to a dangerous neighborhood? The answer to these questions will always be grim, which is why companies need to make security a priority.
Cyberattacks are increasing in sophistication and have now become a global problem. Attacks that affect all the other industries have the potential to disrupt the car industry as well. Automakers are working around the clock to come up with new tech that can deal with these threats, but criminals are always evolving.
One of the biggest challenges car makers will face when it comes to their autonomous vehicles is cybersecurity. Much like people secure their computers with a firewall and anti-virus, auto-manufacturers should do, too. After all, computers are computers, no matter where or how people use them.
Companies can create levels when designing and developing components for their vehicles. Hardware should be top quality, and should only work with software keys intended for it. The software should have multiple layers of authentication and encryption. Software updates should always be available to all car owners over-the-air (OTA), so they won't have to wait. The networks (or grid) on which autonomous vehicles communicate should get military-grade encryption and protection. These safeguards will shield the grid from widespread cyberattacks that have the potential to affect millions of people.
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