Connected Cars: From Hacking to Bullying

Autonomous CarAs the worlds moves toward connected everything we grapple with the ramifications of connected devices, particulary those of us concerned with data privacy. Fitness bands, baby monitors, electric skateboards, and insulin pumps are but a few of the hacked or leaky devices. The fact is, if its connected, its vulnerable. But connected vehicles present a trunkful of unique issues to contend with. 

This is one of the first questions that come to mind when people imagine hopping into an autonomous vehicle. What if there's an accident? How about insurance? Or, what if you're driving your regular car and a driverless vehicle hits you, then what? 

To make it trickier, there are levels of automation. Google envisions fully autonomous cars without steering wheels. Others are semi-autonomous, and assist a human driver but do not handle every aspect of driving. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently decided that in the case of a fully automated car, (like the Google version) the software is the driver. In cases where an accident is caused by the AV, the manufacturer is liable.

Manufacturers aren't too concerned about liability for accidents however.  Self driving cars are MUCH safer - 94 percent of crashes can be tied to a human choice or error. Increased safety is one big reason the government fast tracked the new policy for automated vehicles. And AVs will have cameras, and record everything going on around them, making it impossible to blame them for an accident they didn't actually cause.

Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be 250 million connected vehicles on the road. All the connection pathways into all those cars need to be secured. Connected cars have already been proven to be hackable. And dozens of car models are vulnerable to a hack that tricks the keyless entry. Using this simple, inexpensive hack cars locks will open, including the trunk, and can be started and driven away.

Cars have at least 30 microprocessors, or mini computers which run all the car's systems. They are all interconnected, and vulnerable. Connected cars have infotainment systems which are connected to the internet to supply wi-fi or get directions. If not kept seperated the infotainment system can open a pathway from the internet into control circuits for the transmission or brakes.

Another potential threat is ransomware. Security experts are already worrying about ransomware that could shut the car down, or lock it up until the ransom was paid.

Some cars now have systems that interface with home automation systems, letting the driver adjust heat/ac, turn on lights, and manage the alarm system. And don't forget about phones, with all they contain, connected by bluetooth to the car.

Among the interesting issues that surround automated cars is an ethical dilemma. If a pedestrian darts out in front of an AV and the car can avoid hitting her only by driving over a high steep cliff, who does the car choose to save? Should it spare the pedestrian and send the occupant plummeting off the cliff? 

A study by Science asked the question. The majority of people said it is ethically better to sacrifice the occupants than to run into pedestrians. A majority also said they would not buy a car that prioritized pedestrian safety over their own.

Mercedes was the first manufacturer to take a position. All their cars will be programmed to prioritize the safety of the occupants.

Volvo is doing a pilot test in the UK in which 100 self driving cars will be leased to motorists. The cars will not be distinguishable as self-driving though because Volvo doesn't want the cars to be bullied.

There was a study that found aggressive drivers think autonomous vehicles are easy prey because they follow the rules. The drivers say they'll be able to pass with impunity because they'll brake sharply or veer toward the AVs, which would then stop or brake hard. Some mean-minded drivers noted they'd be able to torment the occupants of a docile, safety-focused, self-driving car.

At least one participant in the study had a different perspective. Rather than planning to victimize them, she was hopeful the AVs would have a positive effect on human drivers. "We'll be overwhelmed by niceness. They're never going to do anything horrible to us. They're NICE cars."