Securing the Autonomous Connected Car

2017 marked the first year ever without any fatal commercial airplane accidents
One instance involved a pedestrian, and the other a taxi driver who got out of his car at a light when the autonomous vehicle was stopped and attacked the autonomous vehicle.

This month, the state of Pennsylvania brought suit against Uber for failing to notify passengers and drivers personal information had been obtained by hackers. This breach affected thousands of people.  It seems likely that Uber didn’t notify them because Uber feared a negative impact on its business if drivers and passengers felt that their personal privacy might be compromised if they used Uber.

Recently, there was a widely reported vulnerability in Fiat Chrysler cars that allowed hackers to gain remote control of cars that were not designed to operate except under the control of a resident driver. An attacker outside of the car was able to gain control despite the efforts of the resident driver. The company responded by publicly acknowledging the vulnerability and making it clear that the cause of the vulnerability had been eliminated. Fiat Chrysler has also announced that it will have a fleet of autonomous taxis carrying paying customers in the second half of 2018.

Audi has announced an A8, to be made available this year, that will have the ability to drive autonomously on divided highways in traffic jams up to a speed of 37 miles per hour. Audi has announced that the company will assume all liability for accidents while the car is in autonomous mode. This likely means that Audi will be monitoring the vehicle in real time and also interfacing with a re-insurance company that will want data. These additional layers potentially pose additional security concerns. 

Concerns about autonomous cars have also appeared in popular culture. Recently in the widely syndicated newspaper comic strip “Dilbert” there were two strips featuring autonomous cars. In the first cartoon, Dilbert is asked by some of his colleagues to program the car carrying another colleague go off a cliff and kill the colleague. Dilbert refuses and those same colleagues attack Dilbert because he refuses. In the second cartoon, the car goes off the cliff, killing the disliked colleague and Dilbert is asked if that was a bug in the program or if he made it happen.  He answers that it was a bug. He is then asked if it was a known bug and he answers, “Now we are getting into a grey area.”

Physical Security

People in cars, whether drivers or passengers, want to feel that the car will go where they want it to go and that they will arrive there safely. They also want to feel that others outside the car will be safe, unlike the unfortunate pedestrian who was killed by an autonomous car. Consumers are aware of potential physical security threats in vehicles driven by other people and autonomous vehicles. Given a choice, with all else being the same, consumers will choose a more physically secure product over a less physically secure product.

Experience with autopilots in commercial aviation is instructive. In the past, in commercial aviation 95 percent of all accidents resulted from pilot error. 2017 marked the first year ever without any fatal commercial airplane accidents. Compare this milestone to 1957 or even 1967, when most leading airlines suffered at least one major tragedy per year. In 2014, 1.2 million humans died globally in road traffic.  However, commercial airplanes have not been subject to the kinds of cyber attacks that autonomous vehicles are likely to face.  Consumers need reassurance on this score. That is why the Audi acceptance of liability for accidents cited above is so important.

Occupants of vehicles (passengers, and drivers if not autonomous) also want to know that they are safe from attack by other occupants in the vehicle or other people or things around the vehicle.

If the vehicle appears to be operating in an unwanted fashion, or if some person or thing appears to be threatening occupants, they want to be able to call for help and have effective intervention happen almost immediately.


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