Dr. Jane LeClair By Dr. Jane LeClair • January 10, 2020

Should We Be Worried About the Hacking of Autonomous Vehicles?

In recent years the auto industry, in conjunction with ever improving technology, has made great strides in developing self-driving, ‘autonomous cars.’ Hyundai, Tesla and Google are the leaders in developing these automobiles, but other major manufacturers are ramping up their efforts to develop similar vehicles.

Some reports state that the number of cars using the Tesla Autopilot feature exceed 70,000, covering nearly 780 million miles of semiautonomous vehicles. Meanwhile, Google’s self-driving cars hover around 60 vehicles, with nearly 2 million miles having been travelled.

The Inherent Danger of Autonomous Vehicles

While the development of such vehicles is gaining traction in the auto industry, those with a vested interest in cybersecurity are warning about the inherent dangers of autonomous cars. Author Paul Ausick warned that “an autonomous vehicle can be hacked just as any other computing device. A competent hacker — of which there is no shortage — could soon figure out a way to take control of a vehicle’s steering or acceleration. The consequences are frightening.”

Automobiles have already demonstrated their vulnerability to hacking. Automotive journalist Scott Huntington notes that in a 2015 demonstration “from the comfort of their couch, more than 10 miles away, the two ‘hackers’ were able to mess with the AC, windshield wipers and radio before shutting off the engine while the Cherokee was being driven down the highway. More than 1.4 million cars were recalled after that demo to have anti-hacking software installed.”

Is There a Solution?

The consequences of a hacked vehicle are serious, but solutions are being offered. Andy Greenburg writes that “solving autonomous vehicles' security flaws will require some fundamental changes to their security architecture.” It will also require cooperation between automakers, security experts and government agencies. That will result in unified security architecture that is verified by security experts and follows government guidelines.

Security experts are unfortunately in short supply. Most researchers agree that there will be a shortfall of nearly two million cyber workers in the next couple years. To meet this shortfall, organizations have ramped up their efforts to fill the pipeline with educated and highly skilled professionals who can protect critical cyber infrastructures and information assets. Autonomous vehicles are coming and skilled cyber professionals are desperately needed to prevent and mitigate cyberattacks and vulnerabilities in this ever-improving technology. 

Learn more about our cybersecurity programs and how you can gain the knowledge and skills needed to meet industry demand for cyber protection.


Dr. Jane LeClair

Written by Dr. Jane LeClair

Dr. Jane LeClair is the president of the Washington Center for Cybersecurity Research and Development, and consults on cybersecurity programming at Thomas Edison State University. She has previously served as the Chief Operating Officer for the National Cybersecurity Institute. Dr. LeClair holds an MS in Cybersecurity and an EdD in Adult Education.

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