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Driverless cars are vulnerable to hackers, experts say

Here's an interesting prospect: You're sitting comfortably in your autonomous vehicle, minding your own business, reading IT Pro Portal on your fancy new tablet, when all of a sudden – your car hits a wall and you end up in intensive care for the rest of the month?

Cause? A hacker broke into your car and made it accelerate instead of brake, when it encountered an obstacle on the road.

Even though unlikely, especially as these cars won’t hit the streets for the next five years, this scenario is a possibility, security experts have warned.

US security firms Mission Secure Inc (MSi) and Perrone Robotics Inc say the new self-driving technology elements (cameras, a radar, sonar, LiDAR and everything else a driverless car needs) which were meant to make the cars safe and reliable, could end up leaving them vulnerable to hacker strikes.

The two security companies, working with the University of Virginia and the Pentagon, have run tests that have shown they believe it is possible to hack into and disrupt the multi-sensor system, Business Insider writes.

One trial was to change how the car responded when it encountered an obstacle.

"One attack scenario forces the car to accelerate, rather than brake, even though the obstacle avoidance system (using LiDAR) detects an object in front of the car. Rather than slowing down, the car hits the object ... at high speed, causing damage to the car and potential threat to the life and safety of the passengers in the car under attack and in the car being struck," according to the report available on MSi's website.

"If an attack were carried out successfully, automobile manufacturers have no means of quickly gathering information for forensic analysis or to rapidly deploy additional protections to cars in response to new and evolving attacks," the report warns.

Car makers are well aware of this issue and are working hard to make sure cars stay safe. For example, Google has a team of top programmers tasked with only trying to hack into the car’s software.

Sead Fadilpašić

Sead is a freelance journalist with more than 15 years of experience in writing various types of content, from blogs, whitepapers, and reviews to ebooks, and many more, across sites including Al Jazeera Balkans, TechRadar Pro, IT Pro Portal, and CryptoNews.