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Terrorism more likely than hacking

Alert and alarmed: Tech company Ygomi's chairman Russell Shields believes terrorism, rather than hacking is a greater threat from automated cars.

Automated cars open up possibilities for terror attacks: Shields

21 May 2015

A LONG-TERM, focused terrorist plot is a much greater threat posed by automated cars than the much-hyped prospect of hackers commandeering self-driving cars, according to a leading software producer.

Many of the presentations at this year's Australian Intelligent Transport Systems Summit in Melbourne were about computer-controlled automated vehicles and the prospect that most or all vehicles will soon be connected to the Internet.

But software group Ygomi's chairman Russell Shields who was speaking at the summit, suggested that hacking was not as big a concern as has been made out.

“All the talk about hacking now is silliness. Nothing’s getting hacked that matters,” Mr Shields said.

“We have all of these issues by people who write articles saying they hack cars, but it’s not a problem.

Mr Shields dismissed the idea that a web connection could open the door to hackers.

“They can’t get in through multimedia system, that’s isolated. Almost every example when they do hack, they actually are in the car.”

Nevertheless, privacy is shaping as a major issue, with many people wanting access to vehicle-generated data while car-makers want to protect the critical software in the vehicle’s safety systems.

Mr Shields said the biggest risk in terms of having control of a vehicle seized lies with a part that has been installed on every new vehicle for at least the last 10 years – the on-board diagnostic (OBD) port.

The OBD port is the plug dealers use to diagnose issues with cars that are brought in for service and allows access to the on-board computers and memories.

“The OBD 2 is the biggest security risk in existence,” Mr Shields said.

He then outlined a potential terrorist plot involving a hypothetical person working as a valet, who would have access to many cars, who could sneak their accomplices into the car to upload software that could cause the vehicle to lose control, and in turn cause catastrophic damage, including loss of life.

“There is no way you can completely prevent people gaining access to the OBD 2 port on cars, in garages and other places,” he said.

“Three or four bright 20-year olds can go figure out how to do something and kill people, mess up things, create disasters.”

80 center imageLeft: Ygomi chairman Russell Shields.While acknowledging that precautions need to be taken to prevent unauthorised access to the IT systems on automated cars, Mr Shields said this raised the issue of privacy and access to the data in an automated car.

He said the need or desire for privacy should not be allowed to dominate the debate over who has access to the data on an automated car.

Car-makers, in particular, will likely be keen to have real-time access to the data so they can monitor how the vehicle is performing.

However, he pointed out that, while they might be able to identify a fault in the software – and software faults now cause more than 50 per cent of all recalls – current regulations would prevent what could otherwise be a quick and easy fix.

“Every car company that I know wants to be in the position that they can update the control software over the air (by wireless communication).

“Current recall structures here and everywhere else say that if I have a problem I still have to ask the owner to haul the car into the dealer.

Sometimes people don’t come in, it takes months even if they do come in and it costs me a whole lot of money.”“In the United States the car company has to send you a notice, you have to go into the dealer and you fix it. There is no way I can update the brakes or the ESC except by telling the people to bring their cars in to the dealers.”

Mr Shields said the delays in the current system could result in bad outcomes when automated cars are on the roads.

“OK, if I am a car-maker and I have an automated car and it is making a mistake, I can’t have that stay out on the road making mistakes. I have got to be able to update it.”

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