Break down self-driving cars

Autonomous driving: threat from hackers?

Self-driving cars are computers on wheels. This can make them vulnerable to hacking attacks. There are such risks. And so they can be limited.

  • Networking makes cars vulnerable

  • The first hacker attacks on connected cars were successful

  • ADAC experts criticize: The manufacturers do too little to protect against hacker attacks

Do autonomous cars have to be digitally networked?

No. Autonomous vehicles must always independent of external information can drive safely. If this is not the case for whatever reason, they must be programmed in such a way that they independently come into a safe state - even without intervention by the driver. So, for example, brake and drive on the hard shoulder.

In principle, however, highly automated or autonomously driving cars can be connected to the Internet, other cars, the environment and satellites via powerful interfaces. This should help them to react early to possible dangers and to adapt to the behavior of other road users. The cellular network is also used for this.

That is particularly demanding Processing of the sensor information in the car itself. They have to be evaluated by the on-board computer at top speed and used to control the car.

Does networking increase the risk of hacker attacks?

Yes. A car that is permanently online can be targeted by hackers just as much as a PC, laptop or mobile device that is connected to the Internet. In addition, autonomous vehicles are likely to be regular in the future Software updates need - here too, the computer and the car approach each other, and a new gateway is created at the same time. The question is whether the automobiles are adequately protected by the manufacturers.

A spectacular case in 2015 showed that the danger of car hacks is already real. At that time, "attackers" in the USA used a laptop to steer a jeep into the ditch.

However, the hackers were not on a criminal mission, they just wanted to show how vulnerable the technology installed by Jeep was. They penetrated the vehicle control via the entertainment system. At the time, the driver was a journalist for the American "Wired" magazine; the car occupants had been informed about the hack beforehand.

With up-to-date and systematic protection of car electronics however, the hacking risk can be significantly reduced. For years, the ADAC has been calling for neutral proof of electronic security against any type of attack - for example by applying the so-called Common Criteria standards with which the security of IT products systematic and neutral can be checked and assessed.

A year earlier, the ADAC had discovered that 2.2 million cars of the brands BMW, Mini and RollsRoyce had security gaps.

How can hackers get into the car?

The ADAC's publication on the BMW Connected Drive system in 2015 showed which "gateways" there are for thieves to steal a car. In the future, there will be even more options for outside manipulation.

Possible points of attack:

  • SD card reader

  • USB interface

  • Diagnostic interface (OBD)

  • Bluetooth module

  • Keyless key system

  • Tire pressure control (which works via radio)

  • RFID card (to open the car)

  • NFC function of the mobile phone (also as a door opener)

Hackers can also try from anywhere in the world, which is becoming more common standard built-in SIM card via cellular network to penetrate the vehicle.

What are manufacturers doing against cyber attacks?

Too little. At least that's the opinion of experts and data protectionists - including the ADAC. A frequently heard thesis: Systems against cybercrime cost money. However, these costs can hardly be passed on to the customer because he does not receive any visible extra for the additional price.

Manufacturers therefore (still) tend to weigh up primarily economically how much digital security they build into the car. And according to experts, this always turns out to the detriment of security.

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