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The 'autonomous,' hackable car

Taylor Armerding | Oct. 10, 2013
Driverless cars are coming, with almost magical convenience features. But experts say they are a long way from secure.

It is time to start thinking of your car as another mobile device.

And that is both a good and bad thing. The almost magical capabilities of mobile devices help workers to be vastly more productive and collaborative, while keeping them much more entertained and connected during their off hours. A self-driving car could, in different ways, do the same.

But those handheld devices also expose users to risks like the loss of assets and/or confidential information. Which raises the obvious question: If the best security available can't protect your smartphone, how is it going to protect you in your car?

It's one thing to have your credit card numbers stolen. It's another thing entirely to have your brakes suddenly disabled as youre heading at high speed toward an overpass abutment or the truck in front of you.

Security experts are increasingly issuing warnings about those risks because, at least so far, securing those systems is not a priority. And computerized, connected "autonomous" cars are coming, perhaps more quickly than most people realize.

Internet search behemoth Google has already demonstrated an autonomous vehicle on a test course. Nevada already has a law, which took effect in March 2012, permitting the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Florida followed that April, with a law that allows testing them on public roads, and California followed with a similar law last September.

Earlier this year Toyota unveiled its semi-autonomous Lexus Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle, a car that while it does not drive itself, is, "designed to take over from you when an accident is imminent to keep you in one piece."

Nissan has said it will have a car that can operate autonomously available by 2020. And surely it will not be alone. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) issued a press release last month predicting that 60 percent of vehicles on the road will be Internet connected by 2025. It also predicts that 75 percent of the cars on the road will be driverless by 2040.

French President Francois Hollande said just this week that he hopes development of new technologies like driverless cars will help to revive that nation's industrial economy.

A next-generation, autonomous car will, obviously, be a mobile devicde in an entirely different way. You won't carry it, as you would a smartphone or a laptop. It will carry you. It will be very smart and very observant — while the average human has a 200-degree range of view, it will see 360 degrees. It will make your current GPS capability look hopelessly obsolete. It will be part of the Internet of Things — connected to transportation infrastructure like signs and traffic lights, plus other vehicles.

 

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