The rise of the automotive industry was one of the most important developments of the last century, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Indeed, the sector has been through a number of seismic shifts over the years. And the move towards autonomous vehicles, while tremendously exciting, leaves it facing its biggest security challenge since the switch to a safety-first mindset 50 years ago.
From safety to security
Autonomous electric vehicles are not simple machines. They are complex pieces of kit, comprised of a number of sophisticated parts – all of which need to communicate with each other (in many cases wirelessly). The days of simple cogs and pistons are behind us.
All this communication means one thing: connectivity. And where connectivity goes, vulnerability is never far behind. The ubiquity of the internet has led to the rise of a whole range of bad actors using malware and hacking attacks to steal and extort by exploiting any weakness they can find.
And this can include the threat of physical harm. For instance, in the healthcare sector, MRI scanners, medical dispensing systems and even individual pacemakers could theoretically be hijacked for nefarious means, with potentially terrible consequences.
But if autonomous vehicles are hacked, there is potential for harm on a huge scale. And it’s not just the physical threat that we should be wary of.
Consider a situation wherein a newly antagonistic state had manufactured the braking systems for a large number of European vehicles. And as part of this antagonism, a state-backed hacker threatened to switch off these braking systems across the continent. The economic consequences would be massive, as we ceased using our cars for fear of the brakes failing.
In a world where global trading relations are going through a fractious period, this isn’t an entirely unrealistic proposition. This is why the next big switch to the industry will be the move from physical safety to security in all its forms.