We have written about self-driving — also known as autonomous — cars several times before (see, for example, 1, 2, 3). And for all of the positive attributes of these vehicles, there are also several negative factors.

One negative aspect of self-driving cars (and traditional vehicles equipped with advanced communications systems) has not been discussed much until recently. And, that is the possibility of hackers affecting how these cars drive.

According to an FBI March 2016 news release:

“As previously reported by the media in and after July 2015, security researchers evaluating automotive cybersecurity were able to demonstrate remote exploits of motor vehicles. The analysis demonstrated the researchers could gain significant control over vehicle functions remotely by exploiting wireless communications vulnerabilities. While the identified vulnerabilities have been addressed, it is important that consumers and manufacturers are aware of the possible threats and how an attacker may seek to remotely exploit vulnerabilities in the future. Third party aftermarket devices with Internet or cellular access plugged into diagnostics ports could also introduce wireless vulnerabilities.”

“Vehicle hacking occurs when someone with a computer seeks to gain unauthorized access to vehicle systems for the purposes of retrieving driver data or manipulating vehicle functionality. While not all hacking incidents may result in a risk to safety – such as an attacker taking control of a vehicle – it is important that consumers take appropriate steps to minimize risk. Therefore, the FBI and NHTSA are warning the general public and manufacturers – of vehicles, vehicle components, and aftermarket devices – to maintain awareness of potential issues and cybersecurity threats related to connected vehicle technologies in modern vehicles.”


Click the image to see Advertising Age’s view of the situation.

A Google self-driving car (human at the wheel) at company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg


17 Replies to “Self-Driving Cars: Hacking a Possibility”

  1. Recently, i feel more and more expectation to the self-driving cars than before. In the past, when firstly i heard about self-driving car, i thought it was so funny. Why people should buy a car but never drive it by themselves. However, now i change my mind, because of i drove about 6 hours on the highway in the whole spring break, and i felt so tired so that i always think about if i have a self-driving car, which must be reduce my driving burden and increase the safety.

  2. The idea of self driving cars scare me. Technology is so advanced and I trust it when it comes to the medical world but something about a car that drives itself doesn’t give me ease. With self parking cars, I figured it was only a short time until you could sit back while your car drives itself.

  3. The following article was interesting because it definitely made me aware of this issue more in depth. Technology is so advanced and it does not shock me that this is possible. I personally think the idea of a self-driving car is both interesting and scary. I think this problem needs to be completely resolved before self-driving cars hit the market.

  4. I think self driving cars pose some risk (for example hacking), but I don’t think that is severe enough to override the saftey it would create on the roads. It may be possible for someone to hack into a self driving car and causes a crash, but I also think that one crash would still be less than the amount of crashes that are happening now. I think self driving cars will help older people get around who may not be able to see as well at night or have as quick of reflexes. It can also prevent drinking and driving, because if someone is intoxicated they may still be able to get home but not drive themselves. I also think it will help with the flow of traffic in high populated areas. I remember when my dad got a car that was able to parallel park itself, I thought it was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I think creating the technology for cars to drive themselves, detect crashes and be proactive about avoiding them is one step towards the technology of the future and isn’t something people should fear.

  5. I find it interesting that the FBI is concerned about the security of self-driving cars or autonomous travel at the same time that they are taking Apple to court over their encryption keys. At the same time that the Chief of the FBI James Comey wants a back-door to encrypted communications (1) in order to fight terrorism, they are concerned about the lack of security in self-driving cars. Experts and professionals in the industry have stated time and time again that any back door put in place, even if it’s “just for the FBI to use” can be exploited by people who are worth their salt in the hacking community (2). The FBI can’t have both a safe self-driving car and back door access to encryption at the same time. The Department of Justice learned this past month that companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook do not want to sacrifice the safety of their data and millions of Americans agree with those companies. It should be very interesting to see how this shakes out in the next few years.

    P.S. The FBI said that they hacked Apple’s encryption (which would take centuries to crack by force) on the iPhone in question (3). So either they were bluffing in court and had access the whole time or they are lying about gaining access to the phone. Either way, the FBI is playing a dangerous game with the hearts of Americans and American companies.

    (1) http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/08/fbi-chief-backdoor-access-encryption-isis

    (2) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/12/15/how-the-nsa-tried-to-build-safe-encryption-but-failed/

    (3) https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/46ntom/how_long_would_it_take_to_brute_force_the/

  6. Self-Driving car is cool and popular in these years. But without the negative points the article mentioned, I also want to know what real benefit can self-driving car give us? Will it relief the traffic pressure? Perhaps the technology using in self-driving is good and benefit for us when using it other aspects, such as robot. But self-driving car more seems like a toy for some people.

  7. Today technology is growing at such a fast pace where it is so hard to keep up with all the new products coming out. One that has stood out to me was the self driving car. It shows how far technology has grown in the past years, that now we are able to build something like this. I feel that the self driving car has both its positives and negatives. Reading this article I wonder if this is something people will actually trust when it is being used in real traffic.

  8. The development of technology enables the possibility of self-driving vehicles,which has great potential in my views.This technology may effectively advance the safety of driving,for the major causes to a significant amount of traffic accidents are tired or drunk driving.

  9. Google is changing the world. From Alpha Go to the Self-driving cars, Google farther and farther down the road of artificial intelligence. Last month, AlphaGo beat the strongest Go player Lee Sedol with 60 million witnesses and I am wondering when the Formula 1 race car is driving by a program.

  10. We have been seeing driving technology advance in recent years and this advancement of technology has brought us some problems.
    1. The lack of need for drivers would be catastrophic for the economy; in 2011 there were 73,000 taxi drivers in England (5), who would all become unemployed. This would be common for all driving professions, including lorry drivers, bus drivers etc.
    Link: http://assets.dft.gov.uk/statistics/releases/taxi-private-hire-vehicle-statistics-2011/taxi-2011.pdf
    2. When they are first released, they are likely to be extremely expensive, and therefore most people won’t be able to afford them.

  11. The idea of self driving cars is really interesting for me. There would be less traffic because of this but the idea if these cars getting hacked scares me. Even though the idea of self driving cars to reduce accidents and increase safety but hacking could make this really dangerous.

  12. The idea of self driving car is a good idea for disabled people, old people, and some lazy people like me myself. HOWEVER, it’s not safe for our lives, the self driving car is all controlled by computer, if the system in the car goes something wrong, the drivers’ life could definitely been threatened, Also, it’s very easy to be hacked like our smart phones, the personal addresses are easy to be leaded out, and the terrorists can easily use the system to attack many people. From the big picture, it’s not a good idea. But, this technology can be used in other fields.

  13. There is a good chance that this becomes a very significant deal, because of the trend of self driving cars. With improvements in technology making these cars possible, sadly hackers are capable of taking them over. It is a scary thought and could potentially kill self driving cars.

  14. I have always awaited the day I would be able to drive. Unlike most 17 year olds, i was faced with the fact that i had a physical disability which prevents me from driving. The fact that self-driving cars are an actual thing now excites me. To me, it finally means independence. I wont have to rely on other people to get around anymore. I hope they fix whatever technological flaws it may have because it will be a real game changers in the lives of the whole disabled community.

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