Hacked Driverless Cars Could Cause Collisions And Gridlock In Cities, Say Researchers
Even a small scale hack of automated cars could cause collisions and gridlock in Manhattan, hindering emergency services, according to the latest research.
Researchers at Georgia Tech and Multiscale Systems Inc. investigated the ‘cyber-physical’ risks of hacked Internet-connected vehicles, and this week will present their results to the 2019 American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston.
The rise of connected cars, and the predicted future of automated cars have for some time being worrying regulators. However, until now most of the focus has been on preventing individual accidents, such as when a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving Uber in Arizona in 2018.
How self-driving cars will affect cities
“Likely impacts of a large-scale hack on traffic flow have yet to be quantified,” said Skanda Vivek, a postdoctoral researcher in the Peter Yunker lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Compromised vehicles are unlike compromised data … collisions caused by compromise vehicles present physical danger to the vehicle’s occupants, and these disturbances would potentially have broad implications for overall traffic flow.”
What did the researchers do?
The research into how hacks could impact traffic flow in New York City was discovered using percolation theory, a mathematical approach based on the statistical analysis of networks. They identified that as vehicles are hacked, clusters of roads become inaccessible from the other. When somewhere between 10-20% of vehicles at rush hour were hacked, the size of the largest cluster dramatically reduced, and half the city became inaccessible from the rest.
As well as quantifying how these scenarios would play out in New York City in real time, this approach also suggested a compelling way to prevent hackers from having citywide consequences; have lots of networks, not just one.
The Internet of Cars
It’s often suggested that we’re headed for an ‘Internet of Cars’, probably using incoming 5G networks. Whereas a 4G has a latency of 40 milliseconds, it’s just one or two milliseconds on a 5G connection, making real-time vehicle-to-vehicle communications possible. Cue 5G and sensor-driven collision-avoidance technology, but also vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, so a driverless car could respond to a red light. It could also enable citywide traffic management, with a central hub instructing driverless cars which routes to take to keep traffic flowing across a city. The exchange of information will be so critically important for autonomous cars that a hack, even one that creates just a brief interruption to its link to a 5G network, could in theory cause collisions and gridlock.
How to make self-driving cars safer
Vivek thinks that connected cars should use multiple networks to decrease the number of cars that could be compromised in any one hacking intrusion. “If no more than, say, 5 percent of connected vehicles were compartmentalized to the same network or utilized the same network protocols, the chance of citywide fragmentation would be low,” said Vivek. “Therefore, a hacker with the intention of causing large-scale disruption faced with this compartmentalized multi-network architecture would be required to execute multiple simultaneous intrusions, which increases the difficulty of such an attack and makes it less likely to occur.”
Self-driving cars are inevitable
However, Vivek is keen to stress that the research shouldn’t be seen as trying to criticize autonomous cars, only mitigate their risk properly. “Our work is not in opposition to the future of connected cars,” he said. “They hold tremendous potential for positive impact economically, environmentally, and, for former drivers no longer frustrated by congested commutes, psychologically.”
“By shining a light on these technologies at an early stage, we hope we can help prevent worst-case-scenarios.”