Cyber Attacks Pose Roadblock For Driverless Cars – Forbes

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2017

Since experiencing a breach that exposed the private information of about 143 million Americans, including Social Security numbers, Equifax’s shares have plummeted, with the company losing about a third of its market value in less than two weeks. The incident reflects how difficult it is for even very large firms to ward off cybercrimes in an increasingly digital world, and it underscores what’s at stake for those not up to the task of protecting their systems.

For some industries, the challenges of cybersecurity are well established. Take the nation’s big banks, for instance, which cannot afford the reputational hit and resulting costs that would come with a serious breach, helping to explain why JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo spend billions annually to safeguard sensitive data. Similar risks confront large retailers, something that Target knows all too well after experiencing sharp sales and share price declines in the wake of a massive credit and debit card breach in 2013.

With malicious attacks becoming more numerous and sophisticated, and with many of the market’s most valuable companies hailing from the tech sector, a prime target for such attacks, there are a number of emerging areas that appear to be on the next frontier of risk. Often cited as the most vulnerable are large, ever-growing and data-rich cloud computing platforms; the new universe of IOT devices that automate everything from home thermostats to ordering items from Amazon; and the evolution of online ‘robo’ financial advisors that have attracted billions in assets but which are still in the relatively embryonic stages of development. None of these are likely to cause as many cybersecurity headaches as autonomous cars.

The general expectation is that self-driving cars will gain greater mass appeal by 2020 and become ubiquitous within the next decade, give or take a couple of years. Whether the timelines are accurate or the promised benefits of increased safety, reduced traffic and lower fuel consumption will actually materialize is debatable. What is clear is that Silicon Valley is on board with trying to make autonomous driving a reality.

A pilot model Uber self-driving car is displayed at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center on September 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.(Photo credit should read ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Aside from the steep technical and mechanical challenges involved with building a car capable of driving itself is the complicated task of making them ‘hackerproof.’ Two years ago, a team of experts easily penetrated the car area network (CAN) of a semi-autonomous Jeep Cherokee and killed its transmission. While it’s reasonable to assume that engineers have since made considerable progress securing these systems, it’s unsettling to think about someone hacking into a car and hitting the accelerator, slamming on the brakes or yanking the steering wheel off line. Depending on the circumstances, it could result in countless deaths.

How important autonomous cars are to the fortunes of the companies that have been most aggressive in this space varies on a case by case basis. Google parent Alphabet has reportedly plowed just over $1 billion into Waymo, its driverless car unit, and Apple recently confirmed that it, too, is committed to this effort, saying driverless cars are the ‘mother of all AI projects.’ Still, failing to become a leader in driverless cars would hardly be an existential threat for either.

For Apple and Google, the pursuit of this technology is largely about creating two streams of revenue that will likely be highly profitable. The first would come from developing the operating systems (similar to iOS and Android) that guide driverless cars, which can then be licensed out to manufacturers. The second would be achieved by preserving ‘ownership’ of the in-car displays in any such arrangement, allowing them to gather even more information about consumers and boost their ad businesses.

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