Researchers plan to boost autonomous cyber security

01 June 2017

01 June 2017

Connected car technology is expected to make driving easier and more pleasurable, as well as moving to help the autonomous vehicle develop. However, in an age where cyber security threats are increasing, the risk of an attacker taking over a vehicle, or multiple vehicles, cannot be ignored. 

It is an area that academics are keen to explore, in order to help the automotive industry tackle any threats before they become apparent. Nicola Bezzo, assistant professor of systems and information engineering at the University of Virginia, is just one who believes that sensors on autonomous vehicles are open to corruption.   

′Modern vehicles are not built with cybersecurity in mind,’ Bezzo comments. ′They have a lot of computers with a lot of sensors, and they work great; driving comfort is increasing and there are a lot of safety features. But an attacker can compromise these sensors, or the computer, and can drive you wherever he wants. They can take over the brakes of the car, or some sensor like the GPS, or he can take over the lights in the vehicle.’ 

Bezzo believes that redundancy is the answer in this case, using multiple sensors, the operator would be able to see variations in readings that may indicate an intrusion. This would then allow a further exploration and the possibility to reset the affected sensors before they can compromise vehicle security.  

Meanwhile, another team of researchers from Texas A&M’s Cyberphysical Systems Laboratory believe that watermarking, adding a random private signal to actuators in the vehicle, will help detect attacks. In research, the presence of this watermark and its statistical properties were known to every node in the system, but its actual random values were not revealed. When the measurements reported by the sensors did not have the right properties of this watermark, the actuators assumed that the sensors or their measurements had been tampered with somewhere along the line. 

Both examples show how more secure autonomous vehicles can be, which will benefit automotive companies and also help drivers. The safer a car can be, the better its values and insurance premiums will be as well. It also means that data in the vehicle can be secured, something that BMW is keen to address with its ConnectedDrive customers. 

The German manufacturer has launched BMW CarData, which provides customised services for its drivers. The company believes the system can save money with individualised insurance premiums and allow faster service appointments, because, thanks to ideal preparation, the necessary part has been ordered in advance. Customers also choose who gets to see their data, with companies such as garages and fleet managers having to register with BMW themselves for access.