Hacking autonomous cars could cause physical menace in a city
A new simulation study suggests the possible outcomes if a city’s traffic is hacked by cyber attackers.
Cybersecurity has become an important problem for us as the number of data breaches has soared in the past four years. A recent study by IBM suggests that the cost of a data breach has increased by 12 per cent over the past five years. Currently, it stands at $3.92 million on average.
In a new study, physicists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Multiscale Systems have applied physics to simulate what it would take for hackers to wreak havoc by stranding autonomous cars. They suggest that an increase in the number of objects becoming hackable can convert the rising cyber threat into a physical menace.
The study focuses on how hacking a car could crash a car or run over a pedestrian. It also includes potential mass mayhem caused by these accidents.
Peter Yunker, who co-led the study, says, “Unlike most of the data breaches we hear about, hacked cars have physical consequences."
Another author mentions, "With cars, one of the worrying things is that currently there is effectively one central computing system, and a lot runs through it. You don’t necessarily have separate systems to run your car and run your satellite radio. If you can get into one, you may be able to get into the other.”
The researchers simulated the hacking of internet-connected cars in the traffic of Manhattan. This is what they found through the simulation of the freezing of traffic in the city:
1. “Randomly stalling 20 per cent of cars during rush hour would mean total traffic freeze. At 20 per cent, the city has been broken up into small islands, where you may be able to inch around a few blocks, but no one would be able to move across town,” said David Yanni, a graduate research assistant.
2. Hackers don’t need all the cars on the road to be connected to the internet to stall the traffic. They only need to hack/stop 20 per cent of the cars of the total traffic. So, they say that if 40 per cent of all cars on the road are connected to the internet it’s enough to hack the system and stall the traffic.
3. Even hacking 10 per cent of the traffic would halt the passage of emergency vehicles through the traffic. The same would happen if they hack 20 per cent of the intermediate daytime traffic.
If we want to keep our cities safe or reduce the amount of damage caused by these types of attacks, we need to keep the hacking below the mentioned percentage.
Researchers say that there are many factors like public panic, car occupants becoming pedestrians, and locations that maximise trouble. These factors will further increase the effect of the attack.
David Yanni, the graduate research assistant also adds, “I want to emphasize that we only considered static situations – if roads are blocked or not blocked. In many cases, blocked roads spillover traffic into other roads, which we also did not include. If we were to factor in these other things, the number of cars you’d have to stall would likely drop down significantly.”
Talking about the solution to minimise or avert the problems or effects, Skanka Vivek, a postdoctoral researcher suggests, “Split up the digital network influencing the cars to make it impossible to access too many cars through one network.”
“If you could also make sure that cars next to each other can’t be hacked at the same time that would decrease the risk of them blocking off traffic together,” he added.